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Law Practice Today

April 2024

How to Build a Thriving Legal Practice

Kendra Brodin


  • Prioritizing well-being can help lawyers have more success in their careers and in their business development efforts.
  • Well-being can improve decision-making, increase resilience, enhance relationships, increase productivity, and lead to greater personal fulfillment.
  • Developing emotional intelligence is critical for business development.
How to Build a Thriving Legal Practice

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Many lawyers see well-being and business development as separate and unrelated. In actuality, they are inextricably linked. A lawyer's well-being directly impacts their ability to develop and maintain a successful practice. As a lawyer well-being, professional development, and business development expert with 20 years in the industry, I've seen firsthand how prioritizing well-being can lead to not only more success in your career but also in your business development efforts. The savviest lawyers and legal organizations are starting to realize the same thing.

This article will explore the importance of well-being for lawyers, the role of emotional intelligence (EQ) in business development, and practical ways to apply well-being and emotional intelligence principles to build and enhance your practice.

The Importance of Well-Being for Lawyers

Well-being is not just about physical health. According to the 2017 report from the National Taskforce on Lawyer Well-being, well-being also encompasses emotional, occupational, intellectual, spiritual, and social well-being too. Occupational well-being includes financial well-being, and business development goes straight to the heart of financial well-being in the legal profession.

For lawyers, well-being is crucial for personal and professional success. It’s hard, if not impossible, to have real overall well-being when you are stressing about your business development outcomes (or lack thereof).

To start, here are five ways that well-being impacts lawyer success, including business development:

Improved Decision-Making: Well-being enhances cognitive function, leading to better judgment and decision-making. In a profession where decisions can have significant consequences, this is invaluable. For business development, improved decision-making helps you think strategically about how to build an authentic network, how to nurture your relationships when to ask for business, and how to best serve the needs your prospective clients articulate.

Increased Resilience: Lawyers face high levels of stress and adversity. A strong sense of well-being provides the resilience needed to navigate these challenges without burning out. When it comes to business development, you will ask for business, and sometimes the answer will be “no.” A greater sense of resilience will help you bounce back from these inevitable rejections and keep moving. Business development is a numbers game; the more you ask for business, the more people who will say “no,” but also the more people who will say “yes.”

Enhanced Relationships: Well-being improves emotional intelligence, which is key to building and maintaining strong professional relationships. This is crucial for collaboration, negotiation, and client retention. Emotional intelligence is a key component of strong business development, and it impacts your emotional, social, and (in the case of business development) occupational and financial well-being.

Greater Productivity: A healthy state of mind and body leads to increased focus and efficiency, allowing lawyers to accomplish more in less time. When you have greater well-being, you can move through your to-do lists with greater ease, including your business development initiatives and efforts.

Personal Fulfillment: Ultimately, well-being contributes to a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction in your career and personal life, which is the foundation of long-term success. When you are connecting with potential or current clients, your overall sense of well-being permeates and influences your exchanges with them. If you have a calm, grounded, and present demeanor, that will be reflected in your interactions. On the other hand, if your vibe is frantic, scattered, stressed, and overwhelmed, that will also come through to those with whom you interact.

Applying Well-Being to Business Development

Integrating well-being principles into business development can lead to a more authentic, sustainable, and successful practice. Here are five ways to do this:

Prioritize Self-Care: We’ve all heard about the importance of self-care, but maybe you’ll be more motivated to do it when you remember that it impacts your ability to practice at the top of your game and be more effective in your business development efforts. Make time for activities that support your physical and mental health, such as exercise, meditation, or hobbies. This will ensure you are at your best when engaging in business development activities.

Develop Emotional Intelligence: Lawyers don’t like to talk about emotions, but that doesn’t mean they can avoid them. Emotions are an inevitable part of our human experience. We all have emotions, and we deal with others who are also having their own feelings. When you can become self-aware and manage your own emotions while empathizing and navigating the emotions of others, you’ll improve your ability to connect with clients and colleagues, making your business development efforts more effective.

Build Authentic Relationships: Use your well-being and emotional intelligence to build genuine connections with clients and peers. Show empathy, listen actively, and be present in your interactions. Be yourself, and this authenticity will make you more memorable and likable. Clients prefer to do business with people they like and who they believe genuinely care about them.

Leverage Your Network: A strong network is a key asset in business development. Use your well-being and emotional intelligence to nurture your relationships, which also increases your social well-being. Offer help and support to others, and don't be afraid to make direct asks when you need assistance or referrals. Ask how people are doing, and actively listen to their responses. This will not only help you get to know and serve them better, it will also build a connection between you that supports your well-being and theirs as well.

Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Integration: Ensure that your business development efforts do not come at the expense of your well-being. You could be networking 24/7, but that wouldn’t be the best choice for your practice, your well-being, or even your business development; as you wouldn’t be putting your best foot forward. Set boundaries and manage your time effectively to maintain a healthy balance. This will prevent burnout and keep you motivated in the long run.

Emotional Intelligence and Business Development

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions and those of others. Even Aristotle seemed to show a deep understanding of emotional intelligence when he said: “Anyone can become angry—that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way—that is not easy.”

Here’s a quick primer on the four components of EQ to help you understand how it applies to both well-being and business development.

Self-awareness: This is the ability to recognize and understand your own emotions and their impact on your behavior and thoughts. When you have self-awareness, you can accurately name your emotions using specificity (not just words like “good,” “angry,” or “tired”—the three words many people instinctively say). To achieve self-awareness, practice mindfulness, pausing for reflection, or otherwise practicing naming your emotion and determining the intensity of it (again, this is sometimes challenging for lawyers). Understand your strengths and weaknesses and how they influence your interactions with others, and practice naming your emotions and allowing yourself to feel them.

Self-management: Also known as emotional regulation, this involves regulating or “right-sizing” your emotions and adapting to changing circumstances by using intentional and purposeful reactions rather than simply immediately responding when your emotions have a strong hold on you. Develop strategies for managing stress and staying composed under pressure. This is crucial for maintaining professionalism in high-stakes legal situations of all kinds, including business development.

Social Awareness: This is the ability to empathize with others and understand social dynamics. It's about recognizing the emotions of others and responding appropriately. Active listening and observing nonverbal cues are key skills for social awareness. The goal with social awareness or empathy is to accurately determine what the other person is feeling and, ideally, what they need in a given situation. Once you know that, you can determine the best way to respond.

Relationship Management: This is the ability to build and maintain healthy relationships. It involves clear communication, conflict resolution, and the ability to inspire and influence others. In the legal profession, this is essential for teamwork, client relations, and negotiation. Once you have empathized with someone and know their needs or point of view, you can use thoughtful and intentional actions and reactions to move things forward in a positive direction.

Emotional intelligence is critical for business development. It enables lawyers to connect with clients on a deeper level, understand their needs, and build trust. It also aids in networking, as it helps lawyers to navigate social situations and form meaningful connections. Finally, when you become known as someone who has high emotional intelligence, not only do your current clients want to work with you, but they want to refer others to you as well.

Applying EQ to Business Development and Client Service

Emotional intelligence is indispensable for business development in the legal profession. Here are some ways EQ can be applied to your business development efforts:

Client Retention: By understanding and managing your emotions and those of your clients, you can build stronger, more trusting relationships, which are key to retaining your current clients and getting repeat business and referrals.

Networking: EQ skills like empathy and social awareness help you navigate networking events more effectively, allowing you to connect with potential clients and referral sources on a deeper level.

Pitching for New Business: When pitching to prospective clients, your self-awareness and self-management skills ensure that you present yourself confidently and authentically, while your social awareness and relationship management skills help you tailor your pitch to the client's specific needs and concerns.

Negotiation: In negotiations, EQ is crucial for understanding the emotional dynamics at play, managing your own emotions, and influencing the emotions of others to achieve a favorable outcome.

By developing and applying emotional intelligence in business development, lawyers can enhance their ability to connect with clients, navigate complex social situations, and build successful, sustainable, and meaningful practices.


Even though it’s rarely talked about, well-being and business development are deeply connected in the legal profession. By prioritizing well-being and developing emotional intelligence, lawyers can enhance their personal and professional success through effective and authentic business building. Implementing the strategies outlined in this article will help you build a stronger, more genuine network and, ultimately, attract more clients. Remember, a successful legal practice is not just about winning cases; it's about building a fulfilling career that aligns with your values and supports your overall well-being.