Business Development

5 Essentials for Your Business Development Toolkit

By February 15, 2023 No Comments
5 Essentials for Your Business Development Toolkit

Here’s how small to midsize firms can buffer the economy’s impact.

So … Many … Hats!

How chief operating officers, administrators, and executive directors in small and midsize firms handle the magic act of running a law firm is nothing short of miraculous. You’re expected to be a master of major firm management roles, and challenging markets can make those responsibilities even tougher.

To help you navigate your way through, we’ve got some rabbits you can pull out of your “Director of Business Development” hat that can upgrade your lawyers’ skills and increase the amount of business development activity they engage in.

Some quick advice up front: Don’t try to do everything at once. Pick initiatives that can deliver fast, visible wins. Then use those victories as social proof to generate buy-in to get more of your lawyers to take the next steps in development.

One more thing before we dive into these techniques: Don’t go it alone. Train and encourage lawyers who lead groups and offices to engage in these behaviors as well. As you know, law firm leaders are rarely taught how to manage the marketing, selling and client service activities of their lawyers. In fact, in a survey I ran of over 2,200 lawyers and leaders, on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree with the statement) to 5 (strongly agree with the statement), the statement: “The firm does a good job of training leaders to lead business development efforts” came in at 2.95. This tells me there’s a lot of room to improve. Train more leaders to carry more of the load, and you’ll get superior results.

Here are five key areas where you can serve as the wizard behind the curtain to get your lawyers to engage in more — and better — client development activity.


In many firms where a large portion of ongoing work comes from existing clients, lawyers need to secure those clients. They need solid defensive strategies that block the efforts of other firms that are trying to steal them away. One approach could be to constantly offer lower fees, but that becomes a race to the bottom.

A better approach is to offer extraordinary levels of service. Service that makes clients believe they won’t be treated better elsewhere. Service that makes them feel like they are the most important client to the firm. Service that creates fierce loyalty to the firm.

“Too few firms invest in delivering client service that actually is meaningful to the clients. Being responsive, having relevant experience and doing high-quality work is not client service, it’s base-level service; it’s table stakes,” says Nat Slavin, a Partner and Founder of Wicker Park Group. “We’ve interviewed thousands of clients during the last 15 years and the firms that deliver the highest level of service garner the highest level of client loyalty. When that happens clients send more work, better work and they are far less susceptible to the random pitches they get from competing firms.”

How to encourage higher levels of service:

  • Request client feedback to learn how they define great service, where things need to improve and how you can up your game.
  • Provide internal training and run brainstorming sessions where your lawyers discuss what extraordinary levels of service look like.
  • Recognize and reward those lawyers (and staff) who deliver superior levels of service.
  • Pick a few high-value client service activities (e.g., offer presentations, preventive advice, social activities, make introductions, etc.) and gamify it within the firm.
  • Measure the heck out of these activities.


In so many firms, cross-selling is the low-hanging fruit, but most lawyers don’t know how to properly pick it.

First, let’s redefine this activity since we know most lawyers don’t want to be seen as pushy salespeople, and most clients don’t want to be sold to. Instead, let’s reframe this as being of service to the client by renaming this approach “cross-serving” instead of cross-selling.

“In many firms where a large portion of ongoing work comes from existing clients, lawyers need to build moats around those clients. They need solid defensive strategies that block the efforts of other firms who are trying to steal them away.”

This simple change of nomenclature can unleash a floodgate of new activity. Rather than feeling forced to “sell” a new practice area, firm lawyers can more comfortably introduce clients to other firm lawyers who will “elegantly audition” by offering a free service such as conducting internal presentations or reviewing policies and procedures. This approach produces wins all around. Relationship lawyers look good to their clients by offering something of value, new lawyers get to meet those clients and those clients receive support they appreciate.

“Cross-selling isn’t a matter of ‘adding’ services, but ‘multiplying’ value,” says Corey Castillo, EdD, Chief Operating Officer with Lagerlof, LLP. “Effectively integrating multiple practice areas doesn’t just create a higher-value client experience externally; it also creates a culture-building experience internally.”

How to encourage more cross-serving:

  • Encourage internal connections so firm lawyers get to know each other’s practices and each other personally.
  • Schedule more internal meetings to discuss cross-opportunities.
  • Schedule more meetings with clients to discuss cross-opportunities.
  • Stay top-of-mind with firm lawyers to remind them of the range of practices in the firm and communicate with clients to teach/remind them of areas they may not be using.
  • Measure the heck out of these activities.


The math is simple — the more your lawyers contact potential clients, the more work will come in. Often the barrier is the lawyer’s mindset, which holds them back based on internal stories like, “I don’t know how to do it”; “I don’t have the time”; “All the good clients are taken”; or “They’re way too busy to want to hear from me.” With some focused training, you can make these excuses disappear. Then, once their heads are in the right place, ask them to develop a prospect list. Encourage them to be very specific — names, titles, companies, geographies, email addresses and phone numbers — and then ask them to brainstorm ways they can approach those prospects.

“Stay top-of-mind with firm lawyers to remind them of the range of practices in the firm and communicate with clients to teach/remind them of areas they may not be using.”

Now, this is where your efforts are put to the test and they take the lessons of how they can reach out and apply them to their lists. Some examples include simply checking in with people who have fallen off the radar, interviewing them for an article or talk, offering internal presentations, commenting on news relating to that client, or perhaps inviting them to join a group.

After they have their targets and their plan, you get to switch hats and embrace your cheerleader and watcher personas. By praising and encouraging their efforts and tracking their activity, you will keep these desired behaviors top-of-mind and demonstrate the importance of these activities as a strategic imperative.

How to encourage more meetings with potential clients:

  • Give your lawyers the skills and tools they need to overcome their internal saboteurs and become comfortable enough to reach out to potential clients.
  • Ask them to get out there and make contact.
  • Measure the heck out of these activities.


I find as a group, intellectual property lawyers are often pretty good at understanding the value of cultivating referrals from other sources like foreign associates and other noncompetitive firms. Many other lawyers, however, don’t spend enough time thinking about — and acting on — how to develop a more robust referral pipeline. There are many sources that can be tapped — if only they spent the time identifying who they are — and developing approach plans to build solid relationships.

How to encourage more referrals:

  • Put your lawyers through an exercise where they identify existing and potential referral sources.
  • Have them brainstorm ways they can elegantly reach out to these sources.
  • Have them make commitments to reach out.
  • Measure the heck out of these activities.


There are so many potential clients out there who have no idea you have lawyers who can help them. Your job is to give your lawyers ideas, tools and the motivation to make some noise so they can get heard above the din of other lawyers who are also trying to make names for themselves.

This applies for new potential clients as well as for existing clients. Going back to cross-serving for a moment: In the industry survey I mentioned earlier of over 2,200 lawyers and leaders, the statement “Our group effectively communicates our services to targeted firm clients who are not currently using us” got a score of 2.82 out of 5. Clearly, we’re leaving a lot on the table by not letting our existing clients know about other capabilities we possess.

How to get your lawyers known by the right people:

  • Have your lawyers identify high-priority niched areas they want to be known for.
  • Share different tools and approaches for getting their names out to populations who have a need for those services.
  • Identify specific “amplifiers” — entities that can get their messages out to wide audiences, like publications, social media channels,
  • speaking venues, conferences, etc.
  • Have them make commitments to reach out.
  • Measure the heck out of these activities.


As discussed in No. 3, the role of the watcher is critically important in a law firm. Lawyers will generally default to the urgent (their client matters) but not the important, which is client development. It’s therefore up to you as a leader to keep ringing the bell around the activities listed in this article; otherwise, they will regress to their prior habits.

I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that “measure the heck out of these activities” shows up in each of the five areas. That’s because the old adage, “what gets measured gets managed, and what gets managed gets done” applies as well to law firms as it does to other businesses.

Find some simple measures to start with and make them very visible. Manage to them. Refer to them often. Praise and reward those who meet and exceed goals. Once you and other firm leaders set a tone that reinforces the importance of these activities, your lawyers will start to behave in alignment with those expectations.


The actions suggested in this article are always important to implement, but even more so when facing difficult economic conditions. By instilling disciplines that get your lawyers to solidly execute the fundamentals, you increase your odds of navigating through the tough times, and you’ll also be set up to thrive on the other side.


First Published at Legal Management | February 2023