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June 07, 2019 Articles

Talking Business with Friends

Learn how to handle these situations the right way (and without ruining any friendships in the process).

By Allison Wolf

When it comes to business development, one of the challenges that many lawyers face is their reluctance to mix friendship or social connections with business. This is unfortunate because some of the best opportunities for growing a legal practice exist within the network of people who already know and trust you.


Here are some of the mistaken beliefs that hold lawyers back from talking business with friends:

  • “It is bad manners and crass to seek business from friends.”
  • “This might make it look like I am taking advantage of the relationship.”
  • “I don’t want to seem to be exploiting a friendship.”
  • “What if the legal work doesn’t go well? The friendship could be harmed.”

These beliefs represent variations of a mind-set that sees business development as a self-serving activity with only one-sided benefits.

Two-Sided Benefits

The fact is that effective business development is about helping, educating, and giving back. Prospective clients find and hire you because of how you can help them with the opportunities or challenges that they face.

With a focus on helping in mind, reflect on this question: How could doing business with your friends be beneficial to them?

  • It might be that you or your colleagues could have valuable insights or information to share with them.
  • They are facing a critical challenge in their business or personal life and need a lawyer, and you want to be sure they get the best help possible.
  • It would be enjoyable to work with them and their company.
  • Your friends might be very comfortable talking business with you and, indeed, welcome your insights about their business objectives.
  • Many people enjoy helping a friend and connecting their friends with other people in their network.

Can you think of other ways that talking about business with your friends could be positive for them?

I once spoke with a litigator about this very challenge. Her husband in the technology sector had many friends in the industry. At a BBQ in the summer, one of his friends started talking about a challenge he was running into that she was well equipped to handle. The approach she took was to ask a few questions to learn more about the problem. Then she said, “I have some ideas based on my experience with this exact sort of situation that could potentially be useful for you. Would you like me to call your office on Monday to discuss this further?” The friend agreed, and they decided on a time for the call. She followed up with the phone call; and after sharing her ideas, she was invited for a further meeting at his office, where she landed a file assisting with the issue.

Another commercial litigator brought in a new client for his firm while on vacation in Mexico in January. On the last day of his holiday, he struck up a conversation with another young father poolside. Over the course of the discussion, they got to talking about their respective careers, which revealed an opportunity for the litigator to introduce this new contact to his firm. When they both returned from holiday, the introduction was made, and the poolside connection became a client.


Here is a simple, etiquette-minded approach for handling business opportunities that arise in social settings:

  1. Briefly explore the opportunity by asking questions and listening attentively.
  2. Let the person know that you have some relevant information to share.
  3. Acknowledge that the current social setting may not be the most appropriate time or place to discuss the matter in detail.
  4. Seek permission to engage with the potential client further. Ask the person, “Would you like to discuss the matter in greater detail over the phone during the workday?” This allows the person to turn down the offer if it is not of interest to him.
  5. Take responsibility for scheduling the call with the potential client, either immediately or soon after.

In a related scenario, you may have a friend who doesn’t have an immediate need for legal services, but you can see the possibilities for something arising. In this case, you can raise the topic with your friend in this way: “I have been thinking about your company and your work with it. I can see some potential connections to my work and that of my firm. I don't want to encroach on our friendship time together, so I thought it would be nice to meet for a business lunch sometime during the week? What do you think?” Follow this query by asking, “Would you like me to call your office next week to schedule lunch?” This establishes a clear boundary between friend time and business time.


The reality is that many business opportunities can arise from your social network. Authentic and genuine connections can form around the hockey rink, at yoga class, or through community engagements such as involvement on a board. Learning to convert these connections to business using the above approach can be highly effective and a great time-saver.

What opportunities do you currently have for talking business with a friend? What’s the next step you could take?

Allison Wolf is an experienced lawyer coach at Shift Works Strategic Inc. in Vancouver, British Columbia, and founder of the blog

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