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Many associates respond to the phrase business development with anxious questions: Do I need to bring in clients to be considered a good lawyer? If I do not bring in clients, can I still make partner? How can I work on business development when I am working so hard on billable projects? What is business development, and how do I get started? Here are some guidelines that associates can use to help formulate and execute a plan to become involved in business development. In the beginning, the plan may not be highly specific. But having a plan — and revising it as time passes during the early years of a career — will generally serve an associate much better than drift and undirected worry about the business development process. No matter what the personal connection, most clients are basically looking for good service at a fair price. In the early years of a career, developing expertise in a chosen field — and learning about the business of existing firm clients — is perhaps the most critical element of business development. Beyond raw legal talent, however, good service encompasses an array of professional habits that junior lawyers should cultivate. Among these are: � Responsiveness — really listening to and understanding a client’s problems, � Timeliness — paying attention to the client’s schedule, � Availability and communication — returning telephone calls promptly and keeping the client updated on developments, and � Efficiency — avoiding overbilling and ensuring that the amount of work performed is appropriate to the client’s needs and expectations. Developing a reputation for skill and good service will serve you well throughout a legal career, but it is an especially important building block for business development. In a very real sense, business development begins as soon as an associate begins work at a law firm. At most larger firms, senior lawyers can choose among the junior lawyers who may be available to work on their projects. In that sense, senior lawyers should be treated like clients. Providing them with good service and adding value to their work will bring them back with more work. That is the most basic engine of business development. As time passes, an associate can expect to begin working more and more independently with the clients of a firm. If you have worked diligently at developing legal skills and professional habits, direct client contact (or with little senior supervision, other than an occasional “check in”) can begin quite early. Even though the clients may not be exclusively yours and may have been brought to the firm by someone else, you should mark this kind of independent work as a milestone in the business development process. DO A LITTLE EVERY DAY The biggest mistake many junior associates make early in their careers is to allow the rush of daily work to crowd out business development activities. The sense that business development is for “later” in a career must be resisted, so that these activities do not get delayed for weeks, months, and eventually years. Business development is a lifelong habit, with a very long-term return on investment. It is not surprising that some of the best rainmakers at larger law firms are older. Through years of diligent business development, they have acquired a solid reputation and an extensive network of personal and professional relationships. One can rarely predict when or how such relationships may lead to business, but it is certain that the earlier they are cultivated, the more likely they are to bear fruit, eventually. At the very least, keep track of friends and acquaintances who might have a hand in your business development. Send the occasional note; make the occasional call to keep in touch. Mark their career developments, as you do your own. When you can, be a good friend — in whatever way you can. When you learn of an opportunity to socialize, especially in a professional context, invite your acquaintances. Many firms sponsor social events for precisely this purpose. Having good skills, and even enjoying a good reputation within your firm, is not enough. Associates need to look for ways to expand their reputation to the larger legal and business world. One of the simplest ways to do that is to write and speak on subjects in which you have expertise. Generally, no single article or speech will bring an immediate bit of business, but these can be occasions to make new contacts and to link your name with your specialty. Writing and speaking on a subject may also raise your profile, and help confirm your reputation for expertise, within your own firm. In a different way, working with organizations such as business associations, civic groups, and the like can lead to productive new contacts. This type of work will not always involve legal skills, but can be a way to meet new people and introduce them to your interests and capabilities. Business development, in some regards, is salesmanship. What you are selling is your own services and the services of your firm. To begin a sale, the customer (client) must know that you exist. Once you have the attention of a potential client, you need to be prepared to talk to a contact about what you do and why you are good at it. Begin by practicing a one- or two-sentence introduction. You will probably have plenty of opportunities to practice this introduction (with other lawyers you meet in your practice, and in the host of social situations you encounter in daily life). You must be prepared, however, to go beyond a simple introduction. You need to have a good mastery of your chosen area of expertise, and the ability to talk intelligently about the other resources and lawyers in your firm. Most clients will be quite interested in knowing who is there to support your work, especially in areas outside your immediate area of practice. Most law firms have some sense of the types of clients that are “good” for them (size, area of business activity, types of legal problems, and fee expectations, to name a few potentially relevant factors). In many instances, early business development activities will yield inquiries from potential clients who are not “right” for you or your firm. You must be prepared to reject such opportunities, in a professional and productive way. More important, you need to have some idea of what the ideal client would be like. Who are the top 10 or 20 clients of your firm, and what kind of work does the firm do for them? What kinds of clients, in what areas of practice, are the senior lawyers in the firm interested in developing? You need a basic sense of who your targets should be. You also need some familiarity with the new-matter approval process at your firm. Who approves new matters? What is the conflict-clearing process? What forms must be completed? Does the firm require engagement letters or retainers? Most new prospective clients want a quick answer to whether you can take on their work, and you do not want to lose the opportunity by fumbling the administrative process. You also need to be certain about what you can and cannot do for a prospective client before accepting the matter. Ethics and conflicts rules vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Most firms, moreover, have very specific policies on how to handle inquiries from prospects before they become actual clients. Become familiar with these rules and policies. When work must be turned away, you need to have some strategy to leave the prospective client with a good feeling. There may be a “next time” for the prospective client, and there may be occasion for the prospect to refer business from others. Letting the prospect down easy generally means making it clear that you would like to work on the matter, but cannot (for some good reason). If you can, recommend other lawyers at other firms who might be able to handle the matter. They may return the favor one day. HAVE FUN The habit of business development, like any other good habit (healthy diet, regular exercise), will usually not be maintained if it seems tedious and unpleasant. You need to make certain that the habit can be comfortably incorporated into your daily professional routine so that it does not become a chore. One mistake that some associates make is in thinking that one single business development activity will immediately lead to significant business. When joining the “right” club, or giving the “big” speech brings no immediate reward, the associate can become frustrated and abandon all business development activity. Instead, view business development as a game, like roulette. The more bets that are on the table, the more likely it is that a turn of the wheel will bring a reward. Mark your progress in business development by how many bets you have on the table, not whether the wheel has yet turned in your favor. Maybe you have no time for writing and speaking. Maybe you already have one “anchor” client who needs virtually all of your attention. Maybe the firm already has a particularized business development strategy that you are being encouraged to support. No single plan is right for every associate. But having some kind of plan is essential. Good luck in creating your own. Steven C. Bennett is a partner in the New York office of Cleveland’s Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue and co-coordinator of the office’s new associates group.

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