October 23, 2012

Law Practice Magazine

March 2006

Volume 32 Number 2 | PAGE: 46 | BY: Harry Keshet and Catherine Alman MacDonagh


In a recent study of the business development tactics used by women lawyers, the Legal Sales and Service Organization (LSSO) set out to uncover what successful business developers do differently from their peers. Concluded late last year, the LSSO Women Lawyers Survey: Sales and Business Development Issues took a bias toward high business development achievers. All the participants can be called successful marketers-but, as the survey revealed, there is a striking difference between good and great in generating new business. Let's review the survey results and reveal where the difference lies.

The Survey Pool

Of the 418 women lawyers participating in the survey, 85 percent work full-time in law firms. While their firms range in size from very small to very large, most of the participants-74 percent-are employed in national/regional or global firms. Fifty-three percent are equity or non-equity partners, and 47 percent are senior or junior associates. A broad range of practice areas is represented by the group.

However, the range of revenues generated is perhaps the most significant factor in the survey data, one allowing the participants to be broken into groups of "the moderately successful" and "the very successful": When asked about their past year's revenues, the moderately successful ones reported an average of $133,528, while the very successful ones (171 of the participants) reported an average of $543,778.

So what do the very successful women business developers do differently to generate their revenues? And are there certain firm management practices that help or hinder them?

Successful Strategies

It is striking to look at the responses of the very successful group in comparison to the moderately successful group. In response to questions inquiring about their business development activities, the very successful replied that they are:

  • Highly motivated
  • Spending more time building their practices
  • Planning their business development strategies
  • Engaging in a wider variety of activities
  • Proactive and highly skilled at relationship building
  • Asking for referrals
  • Receiving work from many sources
  • Active in leadership positions
  • Speaking and writing
  • Working in firms that are supporting their business development activities

 Given all the above, it is perhaps not surprising that when presented with a range of statements to best describe performance with respect to sales and business development goals, 41 percent of the very successful (versus 12.1 percent of the moderately successful) chose the following: Exceeds or fully meets their business development goals.

In terms of the hours they spend developing business each week, a third report devoting 15 or more hours and nearly a fifth report devoting between 11 to 14 hours. See Figure 1 for how the hours they invest compare to those of the moderately successful group.

To meet prospects, the very successful engage in more activities with both other lawyers and non-lawyers. They follow similar strategies to meet and form relationships with referral sources, too. Overall, they take a planned approach. They draw attention to themselves by taking leadership roles in the nonprofit and other organizations that they join. They also network, offer sponsorships and do speaking engagements. Thus, they position themselves to meet people who can hire them or who can become referral sources. They also become known in their marketplace by publishing more frequently.

The very successful are also more active at internal marketing than are the moderately successful business developers. They join client teams, take leadership positions, participate on committees, co-speak and work on pitch teams. They actively form relationships with their colleagues, are seen, get known and focus on business development activities with their peers.

Relationships are the key to building a thriving practice, and the very successful women in the survey appear to be masters at relationship building. They freely and appropriately ask others-including clients, other lawyers and referral sources-for new work and to introduce them to people who are in a position to hire them.

 The survey also found that the support of the firm, the support of colleagues and the use of teamwork are more likely to exist for very successful compared to moderately successful business developers. In fact, a significant percentage of the very successful participants report receiving resources from the firm to improve their business development efforts, as shown in Figure 2.

Nonetheless, for nearly all women in the study, gender is reported to negatively affect business development. Women lawyers are coping with internal and external strains that exist between work and family obligations. They are dealing with hidden and not-so-hidden barriers to business development in their firms and in the marketplace. It is especially important for firm management to address such barriers. Regardless of their gender, all lawyers deserve their firms' support in helping the firm to grow and thrive.

For example, the very successful participants in the LSSO survey report intentionally planning their business development goals and activities and following those plans to produce business. Accordingly, firms might supply all lawyers with a simple planning form to use, including guidelines for a planning process that includes goal setting.

Management's Role

Business development, like any other valued activity, takes a significant investment of time and effort, and law firms need to encourage that investment. They must also provide resources and support so that the lawyers' investments are made wisely.

All law firms have opportunities to provide their lawyers with tools such as business planning forms, coaching, sales training, client relationship management programs and other technology to support business development goals. Culture and compensation, of course, are important considerations as well. When lawyers-both women and men-are supported as well as recognized and rewarded for their success in bringing in new business, the data seems to show that it will result in greater achievements.

Firm management and other leaders that are committed to supporting business development efforts must provide the appropriate structure, budget and resources that facilitate the right kinds of business development activities. The findings in LSSO's survey provide a road map to success in this area.


Harry Keshet, PhD , Director of the LSSO Women Lawyers Survey, is a consultant who works with law firms concerning business development, sales and cultural change issues.

Catherine Alman MacDonagh , a co-founder and the Director of the LSSO, is also Director of Business Development at Day, Berry & Howard LLP.