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Walking down the hall to the new office of your friend, the partner, you poke your head in and ask if he is ready for lunch. “Can’t today,” he says. “Why not?” you press, when he fails to offer an excuse. “Partner luncheon.” “What about?” you continue, now curious. “Business development and networking.” As you have lunch at your desk that day, you try to wrap your head around the logic behind only inviting partners to an event that is designed to help develop business for the firm. Other than the sheer logistics of handling the extra people, you really cannot come up with an answer. The firm benefits financially, whether business is brought in by a partner or an associate. More importantly, although having clients may not be an absolute prerequisite for an associate to make partner, it certainly can help seal the deal. Which poses the question: If having clients is an important step in the transition from associate to partner, then should not business development be part of an associate’s training? You shake your head, simply adding that to the long list of obstacles standing in your way along the road to being a rainmaker. That road definitely has its share of potholes in the early years of your career. The title behind your name is “associate,” not “partner,” and what client wants to trust its business to a mere associate? For that matter, the legal world is relatively small, and it seems that the bulk of potential clients in your practice area have known for years the partner under whom you work. What are the chances those clients will give their business to you over that partner? Beyond those individuals, your friends and ex-classmates are still too young and not yet established in a position from which they can throw you business or, more frustratingly, have business to offer but cannot afford the rates charged by your firm. Rather than putting it out of your mind and returning your focus to billable matters, you remind yourself that business development is a career-long project, requiring both patience and persistence. Take the first step: Articulate what it is that you really do. When you meet a person, do you tell them you are “a litigator,” or do you tell them that you developed a case against a foreign company that was knocking off brand-name sneakers? Do you say “I’m a real estate attorney,” or do you tell them that you assembled the land, appeared at public hearings and negotiated the leases for that new shopping center being built on Main Street? You want every new acquaintance, whether in business or your apartment building, to remember what you actually do, not just that you are a lawyer. Just from the e-mails that come in during your lunch, the raw materials for the second step are already in front of you. Beyond articulating your own skill set, there may be hundreds of other attorneys at your firm whose skills you have to offer. Click on those congratulatory successful matter announcements to see what some of your colleagues have done. Read those alerts and updates from other departments. Read the marketing materials of other practice groups. Read the lists of new clients, and the biographies of new attorneys joining the firm. Then look at your office phone list and highlight the attorneys you do not yet know, or do not know well enough, and remember to look for those names at the next firm event. When that potential client fails to show interest in what you are doing, will you know enough about what the rest of your firm is doing to hold her attention when you start talking about her own legal needs? Closing that last e-mail, you move the mouse over and open up your contacts. Whom do you know? The thing is, you can change the set of people you know. And the people you know can change. Your next-door neighbor may never send you business, but when you learn that his wife used to date someone who is now the northeast regional manager of a large retail chain, you find a tactful way to have the wife set up a lunch where you can describe the work you are doing with a similar retail chain in the area. That shy underachiever from your law school who hung out her own shingle and is doing landlord/tenant litigation needs to know, when one of her tenant clients decides to make an initial public offering of their technology company, what your firm has been doing lately in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street. That friend from college may still be trying to write the great American novel. If he does, who is he going to call to handle the script development rights? Then there is that golf course developer. Where is that e-mail you saw about a course for sale? Just putting two contacts together is a way to establish the goodwill which will make them think of you when they have business. Now clearing away the crumbs, you look over at your calendar. In four months you will be attending a convention for attorneys in your practice area, both in-house potential clients and outside potential competitors. Have you come up with an idea for a roundtable discussion yet? Something that can also be turned into an article for a journal? What will you do to make yourself known by the larger crowd? Is there an area you can research and become the “go-to” guy in your firm? What other events can you attend, or groups can you join, be they business, political, charitable, or social? How can you fill in those few remaining blank spaces on your calendar? Your friend knocks on the door. “How was lunch?” you ask. “Good. Picked up a few ideas of what I might do to get some business. Did a little networking.” “Sounds great,” you respond. “Me too.”

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