Lawyer Business Development Mindset: Do Something Everyday

Lawyer business development guru Paula Black is all about action. Paula and I led a retreat workshop on Amelia Island, Florida last week. While I have been known to enjoy my naptime and quiet moments on the beach, Paula stays in constant motion. Her motto:  

Do Something Everyday

Taking Paula’s advice not only gets results, but perpetuates what author David Emerald calls “the virtuous cycle.” Here’s how it works.

The Changing Legal Ecosystem:  For many of my lawyer friends, the legal ecosystem has changed. When I started practicing in the early 1980’s those of us in big law expected to inherit the clients who had passed from generation to generation of lawyer at our firms. While it’s tempting to hope that this pattern will continue, when it comes to business development, “hope is not a method.” (A slogan borrowed from a brochure on reproduction distributed in my junior high health classs).

Client Demands:  My law firm clients find themselves in a new world where legally and financially savvy in-house counsel are fed up with fee increases and willing to take their business down the street or back in-house. Bright young lawyers who have trained with the best big law has to offer are more than happy to move to those in-house positions. In-house counsel is becoming the destination of choice for many great young lawyers who used to seek partnership.

Two Mindsets:  The pressure is on and outside lawyers can respond from one of two mindsets. That of Victim or that of Creator. These terms and the model outlined below come from Emerald’s great book “The Power of TED” and his wisdom fits the currently legal world perfectly.

The Victim Mindset. Lawyers who adopt the victim mindset see these new demands as happening to them, something they did not create, are not responsible for and are powerless to overcome. (By the way each and every day most of us have moments in this mindset triggered by things as mundane as heavy traffic and as serious as major illnesses.)

The Vicious Cycle:  When a lawyer is in a victim mindset, the focus in on the problem (not enough work), which in turn creates counterproductive emotions such as fear, anxiety, frustration and anger. And when you act from those emotions, you typically react by doing something that just makes the problem worse (think leaving early for happy hour or complaining).  That negative action makes the feelings worse, which makes you do more unhelpful things, and so on. The cycle repeats.

Creating a Shift:  So how do shift out of this cycle? According to Emerald, it’s about changing your focus to that of a Creator. A lawyer Creator faced with a changing legal environment, focuses not on the problem but on the vision he or she wants to create. For most of my clients, that’s doing challenging work they enjoy, to help clients they respect, while making a decent living doing it.

The Virtious Cycle:  When you focus on the vision, the feeling starts to shift from frustration and fear to commitment and passion. From that shift comes a single action---one step that takes you closer to the goal. The action creates a virtuous cycle by moving you closer to the vision, which creates more passion, then more actions and so on.

So, if you are stuck in a victim mindset and are ready to shift, take a pointer from Paula: “DO SOMETHING EVERYDAY.”