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Business Development Tips for Mid- to Senior-Level Associates

Oran F Whiting


  • Tips to position yourself for successfully building a book of business and triggering the mental process about marketing and business development.
  • Advancement to mid- to senior-level associate is a critical time both professionally and from a marketing perspective. 
Business Development Tips for Mid- to Senior-Level Associates
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This article provides concrete tips and strategies on positioning lawyers to successfully build a book of business and to trigger the mental process about marketing and business development. This article is directed at mid- to senior-level associates and similarly seasoned practitioners.

Advancement to mid- to senior-level associate is a critical time both professionally and from a marketing perspective. At this point, law firm associates have established themselves as competent or superior practitioners and have presumably built solid professional reputations within their firm. The future is generally bright but comes with ominous responsibilities: Senior associates may graduate to the next level and most likely have to begin supporting themselves and other associates.

If a firm has an inclusive, long-term, growth-oriented marketing plan, associates have been exposed to clients through inclusion in client meetings, responsibility for client contact, and for case management throughout their tenure. This will have presented an opportunity for the establishment of a professional reputation both inside and outside of the firm. If a firm does not have a development plan, or if associates have not been exposed to firm clients, marketing oneself both internally and externally is absolutely crucial to longevity and success. Please refer to the Business Development article in the Winter 2016 issue of Litigation News for recommendations about developing a marketing strategy.

Draft a Focused Business Plan

If your firm has not required you to do so, or if you have yet to do so, you absolutely must create, draft, and implement a business plan. This will serve as a roadmap. A business plan will increase the probability of successfully developing business, facilitating the transition to the next level in your current or at a future firm, or undertaking a solo practice.

Define your objectives, develop a plan, and track your results. A haphazard "shotgun" approach is unlikely to yield much success. Lawyers who specialize get more business than those who do not.

Target Practice Areas, Industries, and Specific Entities or Clients

Employ strategic thinking by targeting specific prospective clients, matters, and industries. Steps should include:

  • identification of appropriate prospects via market research
  • development of dossiers on each target client or industry
  • development and implementation of plans of approach
  • analysis of results

By their nature, firm practice groups offer focus on client types, legal specialties, or industries. This focus allows the group to be specific and strategic. Selecting a particular group of targets rather than trying to offer all things to all people, is more manageable and effective.

Periodically ask yourself if your efforts have produced desired results. If not, change your strategy.

Market Internally

Though sometimes a sensitive issue, mid- to senior-level associates must push for inclusion and exposure within their firms. Superiors, senior associates, or partners willing to assist with goals are a valuable resource and a great source of business.

Internal marketing does not have to encompass walking a tightrope between wanting to be part of the team and being viewed as a threat to usurp the partner or client contact. Be a team player and a helper. Help clients, partners, and other associates solve their legal, business, and non-business problems. Do favors for people. Connect with your current practice group as well as others in the firm. Embrace firm management, staff, and any ancillary partners of the firm to internally raise your profile. Even if you do not plan to stay at your current firm, it behooves you to get to know all partners and associates in your firm.

Approach Current Clients (If You Can)

Current clients offer a built in and preexisting source of business. It is much easier to open a new file with a current client than to originate a new client. Approach current clients for business and undertake efforts to confirm client needs, wants, and satisfaction. Get to know them better to see if you can generate additional files from them. Ascertain what they would like or need to know about you and your law firm. You want to educate them about how to help their business, not necessarily give away free advice. Continuously assess client preferences and understand their businesses and industries. Learn more about your client and their strategic objectives, and how the delivery of legal services will assist in achieving these goals.

Contact Friends, Colleagues, and Former Classmates

As you develop and change, so you your contacts. You will find many have left firm practice and are now in house or at places requiring legal assistance. Some may now be in a position to retain lawyers. Locate, contact, and communicate with these people. They will be an important external source for legal business.

Approach Former Employers

If you have been employed at other law firms, do not take these employers for granted. Your former employers, and those affiliated with them, will move to other employers and potentially be in a position to give you business. Your former employers may also have cases and other work they do not want to or cannot do but that you can do. Do not burn bridges wherever you go, and make sure your former employers are always your advocates. Associates who leave large firms can often develop a healthy referral business from conflict cases or matters that are too small for the large firm to handle.

Persistence Is Key

You should always be marketing. Though opinions differ, 100 to 200 hours per year is an appropriate amount of time for mid- to senior-level associates to commit to marketing. Remember, most attempts or pitches will be unsuccessful at first. But, if at first you do not succeed, try and try again. Some relationships can take years to develop. Consistency is key. It is better to do a little bit repeatedly over a long period of time than to do something big on one occasion.