Law Firms Go Fishing

“Give a man a fish, feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.”       Lao TZU 

BTI Consulting Group, a leader in legal industry research, recently released the results of a study that showed that despite deep budget cuts at large law firms, “business development is one of the few marketing areas where law firm executives are more willing to increase spending.”  Of the firms interviewed, including firms of all sizes, “[n]early 70 percent said they planned to provide more marketing coaching to lawyers.”  BTI’s Benchmarking Law Firm Marketing and Business Development Strategies, 2009.  It seems that even in a tough economy these firms are taking the old adage, “teach a man to fish…” very seriously. 

But teaching your attorneys to fish for new business is not just about making them more capable of taking care of themselves; it’s about maximizing the ability of the firm to generate business.   No matter how great the few rainmakers at a firm are at generating business for the rest to feed on, the “two rainmaker business plan” will forever limit the growth of a firm by the talents, time, energy and health of those few rainmakers.  This is not anything new.  Most firms in this situation know it is a problem, but what are they doing about it?   

To the rainmakers that built the firm business development is second nature.  Yes it takes time, but it’s something so obvious and inherent to them that many just assume others should  inherently know how to do it.  They assume that the lack of business development is from a lack of motivation rather than know how.  The associates are told they need to “network,” to go to some association meetings, etc. but they are given very little direction on how to be effective in doing so.  (i.e. how to determine the associations they should be joining; what they should do once they join; how they should go about getting noticed, etc.)  Perhaps it is less a lack a motivation and more a lack of knowledge and understanding of how to be effective.  It’s like Mozart expecting others to just sit down and play the piano because that’s what he did.  He looked at the piano and just knew how to play.  But just because others can’t do what Mozart did, does not mean that they can’t be taught to play.   

While coaching will not make someone the Mozart of rainmaking, it can make them pretty good at it, which can be enough to make a significant contribution to the firm as a whole.  Apparently a good percentage of law firms realize this given the increased dollars they are devoting to business development coaching.  Is it a lack of motivation or do they need to be taught how to fish?  Either way, the right kind of coaching can provide the solution.