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9 Tips To Overcome A Lawyer’s Fear Of Business Development
For the lawyers who hate business development and selling their services – this one is for you. Here are 9 tips to get you started.

For the lawyers who hate business development and selling their services – this one is for you.

Let’s be honest, when we became lawyers, either we believed in fairness and justice and wanted to change the world for the better or we wanted to earn lots of money (or maybe a bit of both). Never did we consider that, as we climbed the corporate ladder, we would have to manage people (clients and teams alike), run a business, or actually go out and sell our services.


The reality is that once we have reached the level of Partner or (if we have decided to step out on our own) Freelancer, Consultant or Sole Practitioner, until we have our client base established, our day-to-day job becomes less about law and more about marketing and business development. 


Business development is not something which we are taught in law school and for many lawyers, business development is not a skill we are taught at all. And yet, from an early stage in our careers as lawyers, the “business development” criteria is a firm fixture on our appraisal forms. And it only increases in importance the higher up the corporate ladder we climb.

For some, business development skills come naturally. But, for most, the thought of having to sell ourselves and our services without the requisite skillset to do so, causes overwhelming bouts of anxiety and stress – more so than we would care to admit. 


But why? Aside from the lack of skills training when it comes to business development, what preconceived ideas about ourselves – and about sales in general – are we holding on to that make business development so uncomfortable for us?

  1. The car salesman stereotype – How many of you, when you hear the word “sales”, automatically picture a slick car salesman pushing you into purchasing the latest shiny model? Yes, it’s a stereotype, but it is a stereotype firmly entrenched in our brains. So when, as lawyers we are sent out into the world to bring in new business, we immediately feel like we are becoming someone that nobody likes or wants to engage with. 
  2. I’m an introvert. I don’t like talking to people, never mind selling to them – It’s funny how when it comes to sales we assume that being an introvert is a negative thing. Surely you have to be gregarious, outgoing and buoyant to sell services. 
  3. I don’t have the experience – There are varying versions of this theme: I don’t have the knowledge. I need to upskill. I need to train. I’ve only been doing this for [x] years. The point with experience though is that it only comes with practice. You have to start somewhere. You have to take that step into discomfort in order to practice and therefore improve. 
  4. I don’t have the brand name – This one is more for the entrepreneurs and solopreneurs who have stepped away from Big Law and the big marketing machine that goes with it. There are many a successful boutique firm and sole practitioner out there who have succeeded without a big name behind them. Rather than thinking about what you are lacking, consider how your individuality and size can actually work in your favour.
  5. There are other people doing this that are better than me – Comparison is a dangerous game. We get ourselves tied up in knots when we start comparing ourselves to peers in the industry and it prevents us from moving forwards. We see people succeeding because they have skills that we don’t have. 

Before you’ve even begun contemplating seeking business, you have put 5 staggeringly tall hurdles in your own way. Is it any wonder that so many lawyers fear sales? It feels like one heck of a daunting mountain to climb.

daunting mountain to climb

There is no magic wand that can be waved which suddenly makes you feel more confident with business development. It takes reflection, time and practice. But, here are 9 tips to get you started:

1. Build up your confidence: 

Whichever rung of the corporate ladder we are currently on, doing something new or something you haven’t practised for a while, tends to throw us into a bit of a confidence crisis. Business development is no exception. 


In order to be successful in business development, you need to start believing that you can be successful. Fundamentally, YOU are your brand. And that requires some work on your confidence. When did you last sit down and consider:

  • What your strengths are?
  • What attracts you to people?
  • What experience you have?
  • What skills you have?

I’m not just talking about in law. I’m talking about all the life experience that you can bring to the table. Business development is about so much more than the law. Remember, our experiences make us unique. No other lawyer in the world has the same life experiences as you do. How can you use these to your advantage?


2. Be You: Don’t mimic other people’s sales styles. Don’t try to be outgoing and funny if you have a more conservative and intellectual style. People are attracted to people who they can relate to and connect with. People who are genuine and trustworthy. It’s why the sleazy car salesman feels so objectionable. So, once you’ve built up your confidence – stand tall in those shoes – and just be who you are.


3. Stop thinking small: Clients may initially be attracted by a big brand name, but if the lawyer they end up working with is rude, incompetent or unresponsive, then a client will look elsewhere. Clients ultimately choose a law firm based on the lawyer(s), not the brand.


4. Have a plan of action: What are you looking to achieve from business development? Are you looking to start building your network and new relationships or are you looking to bring in new clients and build a practice? Whatever your goal, what ways are you looking to achieve that goal? Is it identifying 10 target clients to nurture? Is it about getting your name out in the industry and using social media platforms (such as LinkedIn) to inform your audience about what you do? Is it a multi-pronged approach? Having a plan of action allows you to stay focused and avoids a haphazard, sporadic approach to business development.


5. Be consistent: Business development takes time because building trust in relationships takes time. As you put your plan into action, you may not see immediate results. It doesn’t mean that you should give up on your plan. Stay consistent with your approach. Give the plan time to produce the results you are looking for. Keep showing up.


networking event


6. Nurture your network: Your network is your greatest asset. If you nurture and support your network, they will return the favour. It requires some work on your part: making an effort to reach out and stay in touch; attending events they host, supporting articles that they write. But what it does is to cement those relationships. These are people that know you and can already vouch for your capability. And, if you nurture those relationships, they’ll turn to you when they need you or be willing to refer work to you in the future.


7. Be front of mind: Consider how you can keep yourself front of mind to potential clients after your first interaction. I’ve received calls out of the blue from potential clients based on a commodities bulletin I wrote and circulated a year previously. I’ve also had people call me because my photo on my business card triggered a memory about a conversation we had at a drinks event. Think of small and subtle ways that you can stay memorable to potential clients.


8. Switch the focus: Often our fears of business development arise because we are too focused on ourselves. Do you spend your time worrying about what impression you are going to make or what people will think about you? Well, I’m sorry to say, but it’s not all about you. Instead of focusing on you, switch the focus to the potential client. Think about why your services and working with you can benefit them. The reason you need to tell them about your services is so they know there is a good resource out there which can actually help them achieve their goals and ambitions. Switching the focus from selling to serving makes business development a heck of a lot more palatable.


9. Avoid the hard sell: There is nothing worse than coming to the end of a perfectly nice conversation with someone and they go in for the hard sell or ask why you haven’t sent any work over to them yet. All of that time you have spent relationship building dissipates in seconds. The whole conversation suddenly feels disingenuous and ends on a sour note. Business development isn’t about the hard sell – it’s about building a relationship over time. So, get to know your potential clients personally. Meet them socially. Listen to their needs. Talk about work so that you understand their business and they understand yours, but avoid the hard sell. Let the relationship do the work. When an opportunity arises in the future, it will allow the conversation (an offer to help) to flow much more naturally. 

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