By the time most law firm associates have reached the senior level (six to nine years out of law school), they have developed the technical skills and proficiency necessary to be good lawyers and the personality traits necessary to please clients. The associates who are able to use these qualities to bring in new business, as opposed to simply completing the work assigned by partners, are much more likely to become partners themselves one day. So, how does one make the transition?
Business development usually revolves around expertise/track record, interpersonal relationships or a combination of the two. An attorney with a highly specialized, hard-to-find expertise (such as enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) or a highly publicized record of success in a unique area (such as defending chief executive officers in white-collar crime litigation) will receive new business without spending much time developing interpersonal relationships. On the other hand, an attorney with a general commercial litigation background will need to diligently pursue and manage relationships with clients and referral sources to develop a steady stream of business.
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