The Three Keys to Business Development

Every firm attorney from the newest associate to the CEO knows that the lifeblood of a firm is developing new business. You learn it on Day One (or Day Two, if the tour takes up all of Day One).

In the course of interviewing law firm partners for our How I Made It series, three factors kept coming up when we asked what provided the key to successful business development. 

  • Hard Work 

“Business development starts with an excellent work product,” says Conor Hunt of Marshall, Gerstein and Borum, “so ask questions early and provide the best possible work product the first time.”

And Jenna McBain of Weil, Gotshal & Manges tells us, “Going above and beyond on a deal will always be valued and remembered more by a client than any tickets to a game or fancy dinner.”

So hard work is vital.

  • Expertise

Morgan Tilleman of Foley & Lardner says, “There’s no substitute for expertise. I think clients are great at identifying lawyers who know their stuff really deeply.”

You have to know what you’re doing. 

Hard work and expertise play a large part in growing your business, but there is one element that keeps coming up in our conversations as most important.

  • Building Relationships

Across the board, attorneys who are most effective at building their business tell us that the relationships they create and nurture with clients, colleagues, prospects and even opposing counsel are the cornerstone of building their business.

“Developing business is often a long game of small efforts,” says Robin van der Meulen, a partner at Labaton Sucharow. “It takes a lot of time and attention to cultivate relationships and trust to form the basis of any successful business development efforts.”

This begs the question—how do you build the kind of relationships that grow your practice? What does it take to build the kind of trust that makes for a successful law practice?

Get to know your people as people. Spend time, socially as well as business, with your clients, colleagues and prospects. And it’s not just prospecting and keeping in touch. Casting a wide net is also important. The process of creating relationships not only generates business over time but also provides personal rewards that go far beyond business development. Amanda Rose of Fenwick & West says, “Make time to know your peers at other firms and in the industry. You will grow together, and it will come back to you in a positive way.” 

Bobby Gerber, managing partner at Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg sums it up this way: “I believe that everything starts with authentic relationship building, whether in client development, client service or internally developing your own “brand” within the firm. So, be true to yourself, work hard at everything you do, and opportunities will present themselves.”

For more career advancement success stories, check out the “How I Made It” Q&A series on

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