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One of a Kind

Get Serious About Business Development and Start Taking Action (Even If It’s Imperfect)

By Jay Harrington

Most lawyers, regardless of their level of experience, should be more focused on business development. Having your own clients is important for many reasons. At most firms, having a book of business (or at least demonstrating a strong ability to develop one) is a prerequisite to making partner. When you originate client work it increases your compensation. You enhance your ability to move laterally. Most importantly, having your own clients allows you to have greater autonomy over your career and personal life because you’re not as reliant on others for work.

Having your own clients is not easy. It creates a whole new set of pressures and responsibilities. When you own the client relationship, you own the ultimate responsibility to produce great work and provide great client service to maintain the relationship. When something goes wrong, you own the responsibility to fix it.

But in a choice between having or not having a book of business, having clients offers more options and provides more benefits.

Make Progress Through Imperfect Action

Most lawyers are meticulous, detail-oriented and analytical. Their “Type A” perfectionism serves them well in the practice of law, but it’s often a hindrance when it comes to business development.

While the consequences of being imperfect in your legal work product can be harsh, “imperfections” is something you have to embrace to market and build your practice. You must take risks, go out on limbs, and take action without perfect knowledge of the outcome.

When you’re practicing law, your job is to de-risk situations for your client. When you’re building a practice, you must act entrepreneurially and take calculated risks on behalf of yourself.

That’s not to say that planning is not important. It’s critical to determine your direction before you start taking action. In an ideal world, lawyers setting out to build a practice would get ready (cast a vision), aim (set a goal and craft a plan), and fire (take action). In the real world, too many lawyers spend so much time aiming that they never fire at the target. They plan endlessly and never take action.

Successful people have a bias toward action.

Successful people across domains have a clear idea of what they want in mind before they start taking action, but their tolerance for excessive planning is low. They have a bias toward action. They use the feedback they receive to review and refine what they’ll do next. They view their plan as dynamic, subject to change based on the results of their actions, rather than set in stone. If you believe your plan must be perfect before you can take action, you never will.

The same principle applies whether you’re building a legal practice, a startup business, or trying to take flight for the first time in human history.

Here’s a lesson from the Wright brothers.

When the Wright brothers set out to build a plane, they faced stiff competition and seemingly insurmountable odds. Among their competitors was Samuel Pierpont Langley, who was well-connected with leaders in business and government. He was awarded a $50,000 grant from the War Department. He assembled a talented team that had access to technology and resources. The Wright brothers, on the other hand, were working with a ragtag team out of a small bicycle shop in North Carolina.

The Wright brothers ultimately won the race to build a working plane because they emphasized action over planning. Unlike their competitors, who would spend enormous amounts of time and sums of money planning test flights, the Wright brothers tested frequently. After a failed flight, they would go back to their workshop, make tweaks and test the plane again. Their competitors worked mostly in their heads. The Wright brothers took action and eventually took to the skies. Instead of endlessly aiming, they fired over and over, adjusting their approach along the way.

The Wright brothers succeeded because they applied lessons learned from taking action. Their well-financed, well-connected competitors failed because they tried to eliminate risk by creating a more perfect plan.

Fire Bullets Before Cannonballs

Best-selling author and renowned business strategist Jim Collins urges businesses to prioritize action over perpetual planning. In his book “Great by Choice,” Collins explains that businesses (like people) have limited time and resources to work with. He asks readers to conjure up a picture of themselves at sea, with a hostile vessel bearing down on their ship. There is a limited amount of ammunition and gunpowder available to fight off the attackers. A direct hit from a big cannonball is required to fend off the threat. But if panic sets in and a big cannonball is fired right away, it’s likely to miss. There has been no way to dial in the correct aim.

Most importantly, all the gunpowder is gone.

If a smaller bullet is fired first, it is still likely to miss. But there is plenty of gunpowder to fire another one. Then another. With each successive shot the aim improves until finally, it’s right on target. Through the experience of firing bullets, and dialing in the aim, the remaining gunpowder can be used to fire off a big cannonball that hits its mark.

Experiment and Refine

As you set out to market your practice and develop new business, don’t get caught up in endless cycles of planning. Conversely, when you do take action, don’t go all-in on an approach without doing some experimenting first. Take small actions, even imperfect ones, and assess the results. You’ll learn from your successes and, yes, your failures, and be able to refine your plan for the next set of actions you take.

If you’re the type of person who can’t stop “aiming,” try a “ready, fire, aim!” approach instead.

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

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

One of a Kind Print Edition

ONE OF A KIND
A Proven Path to a Profitable Law Practice

Almost every lawyer wants to command higher rates and attract more clients. But many are stuck pursuing ineffective strategies. Others don’t even know where to start. In his popular book, lawyer-turned-legal marketer Jay Harrington lays out a path for building a one of a kind, profitable niche practice.

Get more details and order your copy here.

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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. Previously, he practiced law at Skadden Arps and Foley & Lardner. Follow him @harringj75.

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