An In-House Lawyer’s View on Business Development

Before anything else, it’s important to understand that I’ve never been in the position of having to develop business. My career so far has taken me from the lowly rungs of big-firm associate-hood, to government lawyer, and to in-house counsel. Given that admittedly unorthodox trajectory, I’m the first to acknowledge that I should not be dispensing business development advice.

But I can’t help myself.

I can’t help myself because I’m now often on the receiving end of many pitches by other lawyers. And, more often than not, I cringe at the attempted pitch.

Here are three common missteps I find most offensive:

  • The out-of-the-blue contact from a “friend” – I don’t pretend to be everyone’s friend and you shouldn’t either. I also share many libations and business cards with many lawyers, which should be an invitation to start developing a relationship, nothing more. A business card exchange is not an invitation for you and your partners to pitch me before you learn anything about my business. There’s a fine line between assiduous follow-up and aloofness. When in doubt, here’s a general rule of thumb: if we only just met, or if the last time we spoke was over a year ago, I’m probably not going to want to listen to a pitch. Let’s start with coffee.
  • The resume recitation – once you’re in front of a prospective client, there’s really no need to recite your CV or past accomplishments. That stuff is readily accessible (at least it should be) online. Instead, use this time to ask questions about my business and listen. I do not want to have to issue spot for you. That’s your job.
  • The presumptuous alternative fee letter – this one should be fairly straight forward. Simply put, don’t send a proposed engagement letter unless expressly requested. I don’t much care if it’s an “alternative fee arrangement” that is “drastically reduced” from your normal rates. For all I know, your normal rates are unreasonable to start, especially if you’ve yet to establish a concrete value proposition. I’ll tell you if I ever want to kick the tires on your services.

From what I can tell, the lawyers that are best at business development are those that are focused on building relationships over the long term, take time to understand a business and its pain-points, and give value long before they take.