Trellis White paper Ad 770 Spot #6
lawyer wrapped up in red tap professional autonomy
share TWEET PIN IT share share 0
Business Development

What’s Holding You Back? Building Your Book of Business Through Imperfect Action

By Jay Harrington

Most lawyers rightly perceive a healthy book of business as a path to more personal and professional autonomy. Don’t let perfectionism get in your way.

We all have desires for our lives and careers — sometimes spoken, oftentimes suppressed. Every year many of us resolve to make changes, personally and professionally, so we can achieve our goals. We want to eat better, write more, exercise consistently, develop more business, spend quality time with family, learn new skills.

Those are all noble objectives, but inevitably another year passes without the results we desire and we are back to square one.

As we approach the home stretch of 2018, you may be feeling unfulfilled because the vision you cast for your professional year seems like a distant reality. If you’re like most lawyers, you’re probably frustrated by your seeming inability to develop a consistent, profitable book of business.

The lawyers I know desperately want to engage with more clients because they rightly perceive a healthy book of business as a path to more personal and professional autonomy. Without one, a lawyer is beholden to the whims of those in their firm with clients, and her schedule (and compensation) reflects their priorities instead of her own.

You probably have big ambitions, but perhaps you are gripped by inertia and overwhelmed by the stresses of your day-to-day practice. You may be thinking: There’s simply not enough time to begin, let alone execute, all that is necessary.

For Most Lawyers, the Problem Is Not Indecision, But Inaction

The desire for change is strong, but the will to make sustainable change happen is lacking. For this reason, many lawyers spend their careers on autopilot, attending diligently to client needs and priorities but not their own. Days, weeks and years seem to flash by in a whirlwind of emails, conference calls and court appearances. With demanding clients, bosses and adversaries to deal with, who has time to focus on much else?

That’s not to say that most lawyers are mindless or aimless about their future. Far from it. Most have audacious goals for their career. But far fewer take the steps to achieve those goals.

Ironically, many lawyers end up settling for mediocrity because they are perfectionists. They don’t have the time, energy or mental bandwidth to execute on a perfect business development plan, so rather than do a “good” job of building their practice, they do nothing at all.

Professional Autonomy: A Noble But Impractical Pursuit

The pursuit of perfection is a noble goal, but it’s an impractical impediment when it comes to building a law practice. In fact, perfectionism is a form of resistance that many lawyers place in their own paths as a way to feel better about not doing the hard, gritty, work required to develop business.

The truth is that practices are built on a foundation of imperfect action, not perfect intentions. It’s OK— indeed, advisable — to think big. Big thinking, though, must be paired with small, consistent action. You must set aside time to think about and act on things like business development that are important, but not urgent. It’s important to always be thinking long-term, but acting in the short-term. Business development is sequential. It happens incrementally, not all at once.

Do One Thing

Here’s a challenge for you: Do something business development-related today. Make one call. Send a short note. Draft a quick article. Instead of trying to do everything all at once, focus on one thing at a time. Identify the lead domino that will help advance your career step by step.

Don’t put it off. Don’t wait for a window of time that will never come. Take advantage of your margin time — at lunch, in line, on the train — to make progress. Accept the fact that the unpredictable nature of the practice of law will never allow for the perfect routine.

Act. Then act again tomorrow. Pretty soon you’ll establish a habit of action that will start to pay dividends. It won’t be perfect, but that’s the point.

Good habits always trump perfect intentions never acted upon.

Categories: Business Development, Daily Dispatch
Originally published August 16, 2018
Last updated October 22, 2020
share TWEET PIN IT share share
Jay Harrington Jay Harrington

Jay Harrington is the owner of Harrington Communications, a leading thought-leadership PR and marketing agency that specializes in helping law firms and lawyers build awareness, influence and new business. Jay is the author of three books for lawyers on issues related to business and professional development, including “The Productivity Pivot,” “The Essential Associate” and “One of a Kind: A Proven Path to a Profitable Practice.” He podcasts at The Thought Leadership Project and writes a weekly email newsletter. Previously, he practiced law at Skadden Arps and Foley & Lardner. Follow him @JayHarrington75.

More Posts By This Author
MUST READ Articles for Law Firms Click to expand

Welcome to Attorney at Work!

Sign up for our free newsletter.


All fields are required. By signing up, you are opting in to Attorney at Work's free practice tips newsletter and occasional emails with news and offers. By using this service, you indicate that you agree to our Terms and Conditions and have read and understand our Privacy Policy.