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10 Common Business Development Mistakes – And How to Avoid Them

Effective business development has become one of the primary keys to a successful legal career. Despite what many people think – or have been led to think – business development mistakes are common, but it doesn’t have to be difficult, expensive or time consuming – and the return on investment can be substantial.
So what is the payoff for business development? Besides the benefits of building long, profitable relationships and loyal, happy Clients, surveys by the BTI Consulting Group further quantify the results. Their research asserts that each hour per week devoted to business development can yield up to $23,400 in additional fee revenue per year. If you invest just an hour or two per week, the returns can be substantial. But encountering business development mistakes can cost your firm even more in loses.
The key to maximizing your return is to invest your time and resources wisely and avoid some common and costly mistakes including:

Business Development Mistake 1 & 2:


Many lawyers bristle at the thought of ‘selling’ their services. Some even went to law school because they didn’t want to be in ‘sales.’ Fortunately, they don’t have to. Effective business developers understand that they are really in the Client service and success business. Ultimately you should think of a sale as just a pleasant byproduct of helping your Clients succeed.


While the lines may seem blurred between these two vital revenue generating activities, there is a distinction. Marketing helps create or define a need and provides essential support for effective business development efforts. Business development involves personally connecting with Clients in order to understand their needs and facilitate an agreement or solution to address those needs.

Business Development Mistake 3 & 4:


Clients want to work with lawyers who understand their business and industry. No good lawyer walks into a courtroom or deal room unprepared. Likewise there is no excuse for failure to adequately prepare for business development. Failing to properly research and understand the Client’s business and industry undermines your credibility and limits your ability to connect with them.


By keeping abreast of the latest developments with a Client’s business, you not only position yourself as an expert – you are also able to predict their latent legal needs. By definition latent needs are unmet, so they represent significant opportunities. By helping Clients appreciate these needs, you automatically position yourself as uniquely qualified to address them – often without having to compete for the business.

Business Development Mistake 5 & 6:


The world is full of smart lawyers from great firms who went to the top schools and who have all kinds of honors. That is practically the cost of admission to practice these days. In fact, almost anyone on the short list can make a case that they are the best lawyer for the job. Fortunately Clients don’t hire someone just because he or she is a good lawyer. They hire good lawyers they like and connect with. To make this connection, focus on the Client.


Nobody wants to be pitched – especially not Clients. They want to be heard and understood. To accomplish this, ask insightful questions. In preparation for a Client needs interview, you should compile a roster of carefully crafted, open-ended questions designed to elicit responses that will help you connect with the Client. These questions should touch on the Client’s business and legal issues, competitive challenges and plans for the future. The answers will help you discover synergies between the Client’s needs and the unique services you provide.

Business Development Mistake 7 & 8:


After you ask a question, you have to listen actively. Active listening means devoting your full attention to what the Client says without interruption. While it may seem challenging, if you’re listening actively during a Client needs interview, you should find yourself talking only about 20% of the time.

One of the traps some people fall into is treating an interview like a verbal tennis match. After serving up a really great question, they immediately start positioning themselves for the next volley by thinking about what they’re going to say next. If you’re doing this, you aren’t devoting 100% of your attention to the Client. While the perception may be that you will come across as prepared and polished, in fact this prevents you from connecting with Clients and could cause you to miss opportunities to understand and address their needs.


Securing a meeting is easier when you bring something of value to the table. But to understand what a Client values, you have to ask because value is unique to each individual. For one Client it may be a positive resolution to a conflict; for another it may be a proactive approach to avoiding business issues; for still another it may be prompt and timely communication. Ultimately when you seek to determine and provide value from the Client’s perspective you will elevate yourself from being perceived as just another lawyer to becoming a trusted advisor.

Business Development Mistake 9 & 10:


Which Clients should you focus on? As a rule, more than 80% of business comes from current Clients, so begin by strengthening and expanding relationships with them. They often have additional work and can be excellent referral sources since presumably they already value your services. Plus you should already have a keen understanding of their business. You may also want to consider Clients in related businesses or industries who face challenges similar to those of your current Clients.

Next, look for ways to expand your opportunities to cross service some of the firm’s other Clients. Make connections with other attorneys or professionals whose practices are complementary to yours and whose Clients may also need your services. You can also focus on potential Clients with whom you already have relationships or connections.

Only after you have exhausted these options, should you consider expanding to new prospects. Marketing to prospective clients can cost up to five times more than marketing to existing clients – and your likelihood of success will be lower, leading to more business development mistakes.


If you think you are too busy for business development, then you may not be focused. It’s easy to confuse activity with progress, but to be effective you need to allocate your limited business development time wisely. A good rule of thumb is that focusing on any activity that does not help you directly connect with Clients is probably not the best use of your time and resources.

Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits all approach to business development. The key is to find what works best for you – and do it. If you are persistent, focus on the right things and avoid common business development mistakes like these, your results will be amplified exponentially

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