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November 14, 2018 Articles

Rainmaker Spotlight: Don Gregory

If you don’t get discouraged and you continue to work at business development, you will be rewarded in the end.

By Jane Gleaves

Welcome to the YAC Rainmaker Spotlight series! This series features tips and lessons from senior lawyers and successful business developers.

Business development isn’t always easy. No one knows this better than the rainmakers of the legal industry. In this series, we explore practical issues and get the benefit of real-life anecdotes from those who have not only survived but thrived. We thought, What better than to get our advice “straight from the horse’s mouth”?

In this issue, we feature Don Gregory, chair of the Construction Law Practice at Kegler Brown Hill + Ritter in Columbus, Ohio, interviewed by Jane Gleaves.

How long have you been practicing law? 

I have been practicing law for 36 years.

Did you always want to go into construction law? 

I had no idea what I was going to do when I started. I had worked in the construction industry since I was 15 years old. I did summer work, worked on breaks, that kind of thing. I knew a little about the industry from that work. But when it came time to practice law, we had a few construction clients, and they knew that I knew a little something about it. Next thing you know, I was being asked to go to the plumbers’ association to talk about mechanic’s liens. I went to these types of meetings, so people started to learn that I knew something about the industry. At the same time, I started to learn about their business, and it just sort of grew organically from that. But it was not part of a master plan at all.

What are the keys to developing business? 

You need to be a trusted adviser first and foremost.

And you need to develop an expertise, some niche or industry that you know well. And then you have to give back to that industry that you serve, whether that be through trade associations or volunteer groups, to increase your knowledge and reputation in that area.

What business development habits and techniques have you personally found to be most effective? 

I try to keep things growing. I have found that a good practice is to commit yourself to doing three small things each month to invest in your business and three larger things every year. Every month, commit yourself to do, for example, one article, one speech, take one person to lunch. And then commit yourself to three bigger things on an annual basis: plan to present one major seminar to a trade association, make one major presentation within your firm, put together one major social event for clients.

Just commit to your list. It need not be a huge, overwhelming list. If you can be consistent with your commitment to those three things, I think you’ll be rewarded for it.

What are some of the challenges you see in developing business? 

I think you have to work three times as hard at it now just to hold your same place in line. The profession has become more competitive, and specialties are saturated. It used to be that if you gave a seminar or pushed out a regular newsletter, you were one of the only ones doing that. Now, everybody’s doing that. You have to be continually vigilant and work harder all the time.

What have been your great successes in business development? 

I’ve been involved in trade associations. Originally, I had volunteered or served on a pro bono basis, but group positions turned into paid work. For example, the local American Subcontractors Association asked me to be their chapter attorney on a volunteer basis—so I did that, and then I started going to national meetings and got more and more involved, received some awards, and eventually had an opportunity to make a proposal to be general counsel. I was ultimately selected.

Do you have any business development blunders or lessons to share? 

I don’t really think you can make a business development mistake by doing things or trying something out; the main mistake is through inaction or not doing something.

It’s a mistake to get discouraged and think, “I gave that speech and didn’t get a bunch of work out of it, so why should I continue to do it?” In fact, what you’re often doing is laying the foundation for something to spit out to you five to 10 years later because of that work you did way back when that you thought wouldn’t bear fruit.

My best advice for young lawyers is to not get discouraged. You have to keep building that foundation, and eventually you’ll get new clients—and you’ll have no idea where they came from or how they came to you.

Do you have any final words of wisdom for the young lawyers?

I would just say that the longer you do business development, the easier it becomes. If you can discipline yourself to develop good habits early on, you will be rewarded. It may not be easy to see that in the early years, but if you don’t get discouraged and you continue to work at it, you will be rewarded in the end. And, as a result, you’ll have more independence and a more successful practice, no matter how you decide to define success.

Don Gregory is chair of the Construction Law Practice at Kegler Brown Hill + Ritter in Columbus, Ohio. Jane Gleaves is a litigation associate at Kegler Brown Hill + Ritter in Columbus, Ohio.

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