Where Law Firm Business Development Goes Wrong & How To Fix It

By John Hogg


law firm marketing plan law firm growth

The very mention of law firm business development to some lawyers can invoke a whole host of reactions.

Whether it's a rolling of eyes, a shrugging of shoulders, or burying their head in the sand, there are many, many objections from some lawyers when it comes to business development.

But before we pass judgment on these reactions, let's bear in mind that in other industries with a physical product to sell, when these products are sold that’s the job done. In law firms, the job has only begun...

For today's modern lawyer, there are many aspects to the typical client dynamic. A busy lawyer today needs to make sure they bring a focus to how they:

  • Prospect for work;
  • Pitch for work;
  • Win the work;
  • Do the work;
  • Bill the work; and
  • Manage the ongoing  client relationship.

That’s quite a few hats to wear no matter which way you look at it, so it is a pretty reasonable comment for a lawyer to say they are too busy to get involved in any new initiatives... but, (there's always a ‘but’) it still doesn’t make it right!

If we accept this status quo we are doing both ourselves and our firms a disservice. Yes, we can empathise about the many roles a lawyer needs to perform, never mind actually do the work itself, but we also need to find a way to cut through the normal daily grind.

Law firms have a perennial battle against the clock (red time versus green time, depending which Practice Management system you use) so unfortunately business development for law firms, or more specifically, lawyers, can go wrong.

So let’s have look at where law firm business development can break down and begin to find a way to cure it.


In many firms fee earners are expected to bring in new work but they are left to their own devices. The result is that those that can do, and those that can’t (or can’t be bothered) find something else to do.

For business development to be taken seriously in any firm it needs commitment and it needs to be taken seriously.

The Senior Partners must buy into it and someone must take ownership.

Likewise, individual fee earners also need to take responsibility and take ownership of their part in the process.

Is your law firm serious about business development and does anyone senior take ownership of it?


Once again a robust process is vital.

There is no point asking fee earners to develop new business and then just leave them to it. Regular meetings need to be held to review and discuss target sectors, new client opportunities, cross-selling opportunities, tenders, work won, work lost, referrals in, referrals out, etc. etc. etc.

Build out an efficient process to make it easy for your lawyers to contribute and be a part of business development. The more you involve them and the less friction you add to their daily workload, the easier it will be for you to track activities to see what is working, what isn't working. It goes without saying that this will also help to identify those not playing ball either...

Measurement & Reporting

If it isn’t measured it doesn’t get done, and it doesn’t get any better either. Make sure you record your law firm business development activities so they can be reported on at regular business development meetings.

You may encounter some resistance to completing these reports and keeping them up-to-date but make it easy for your fee earners, start on paper (maybe introduce a spreadsheet at some point?), until you have your system locked down and only then consider investing in more sophisticated systems.

Alternatively, make use of any existing systems you have in your firm and don’t ask for War & Peace. Keep it simple and you will get more value.

If you continually encounter resistance through failure to submit information one useful trick used by a firm that I knew was to only consider figures from their business development system when conducting fee earner appraisals and reviews. As you can imagine there was a sudden jump in the number of completed forms.


It is true that lawyers didn’t go to Law School to learn marketing and business development skills, they went there to learn the law. So help them!

It would be a very useful exercise to give your lawyers some confidence in their own business development skills by providing some form of professional training. This could include how to network a room at an event; delivering a client presentation (very useful during client pitches); or specific training on how to close a deal.

A lot of business development skills can be taught, so help your lawyers to have confidence in their own abilities. Even those who profess to have great business development skills will thank you and find it a useful exercise to benchmark what they already know and refresh these skills.


It is not uncommon for a law firm to have no form of business development plan, so this makes it really difficult for your fee earners to know what it is the firm is trying to achieve and a lot of effort is wasted on needless, unfocused activities.

To improve the focus of business development in your firm you need to develop a plan. To begin with you may like to read our blog ‘Marketing versus Business Development in Law Firms - What Really Is The Difference?’ to understand where marketing fits in terms of your business development and vice versa.

You may also like to download a copy of our free guide on ‘Marketing and Business Development Plans For Lawyers’ to help guide you as you develop your plans further.  

Feel free to leave any comments you have below, such as your first-hand experiences of how business development has gone wrong in your firm and what you did to fix it.

We would love to hear from you!

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John Hogg Enlighten IC

John Hogg

John is managing director of Enlighten IC and has been involved in legal marketing and technology marketing for over 25 years. He is passionate about how an inbound approach to marketing can help firms to drive leads and grow their business.

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