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A Conversation about Business Development: the why & the how of business development for lawyers and consultants

Max Steiner

A Conversation about Business Development: the why & the how of business development for lawyers and consultants

By: Max Steiner

JD/MBA’2019, Co-President of the JD/MBA Students’ Association and 2017-18 Hennick Fellow, Programs & Special Projects

 

A 2015 title by Bob Franco, “Sales: the Hardest Easy Job in the World,” describes many students’ initial perception of business development. Despite a tremendous payoff, most people are uncomfortable with business development. Rather, a lot of us prefer an ‘if you build it, they will come’ attitude.

Drawing on two of the JD/MBA’s seminal 2017-2018 events, this article talks about the why and the how of business development for lawyers and consultants. First, I am going to talk about what building relationships, in the context of law and consulting, came to be. Then, I am going to give a brief summary of the two events leading to this article.

Is business development just sales?

No. In fact, no matter who you ask it appears that developing yourself and your book of business go hand-in-hand. There are several ways to look at this. Neal Mizrahi of FTI Consulting pointed out the value of taking notes on social interactions and following up in a personal way.

Various Alumni echoed such sentiments at our panel. A provider and consumer of legal services, Artur Agivaev of WD Capital Markets, explained how time spent learning a client’s business and genuinely helping sets apart truly successful lawyers. However, he also echoed the sentiments of several Alumni that while important, business development may not be for everyone. Still, most agreed, not everyone  can or should make the social side of a profession a priority.

So where does that leave us?

The meaning of business development changes over time.

To start with, I am going to use the model of a young consultant we were given.

As a young consultant, your first years are spent learning. Your days are spent improving yourself by acquiring general technical skills and occasionally delving into areas of special interest. Here, business development has very little to do with sales. Your time should be spent pursuing credentials and specialized designations that can differentiate you long-term. As you learn the software, review past files, and identify good mentors, you become a more effective professional. Just as importantly, management and clients start developing relationships with you.

Next, something interesting happens… You find yourself not just learning, but executing. You start seriously participating in thought leadership (writing and maybe teaching), and getting exposure to larger and more important files. In law terms, this is the transition from student to junior law clerk.

As you move past this integral stage, you become more senior. You do so as you engage more in managing files and projects. You also become a long-term face for clients and the firm. Rather than just the technical skills, you hone your soft skills and develop into a more mature communicator and negotiator. You really learn how to manage yourself and others.

As you graduate from what is in the legal world, a senior associate, to a partner, you again find yourself learning new skills. At this stage, you need to become a leader in and out of the office. As a senior partner, and possibly a managing partner, you need to identify new market opportunities and collaborate more than ever. In the process of proposing and assembling people and macro-solutions, the buck stops with you.

The fundamentals of business development don’t change much.

As you can see, a lot changes in what business development means in a day-to-day sense for both consultants and professionals. But what about the principles? Our alumni agreed that the principles endure. Here are some values we noted successful business developers have after separating students and alumni into working groups. Thank you, Jasmine Godfrey, for preparing them.

  1. Stay on top of people’s minds and always follow. Use tools like LinkedIn to keep in touch as people move around and change email addresses.
  2. Maintain relationships with existing clients in other organizations.
  3. Have an entrepreneurial spirit by recognizing areas of practice to develop within your firm.
  4. Relationship-building is rarely linear; we meet people everywhere, so be open-minded and get involved with extracurriculars.
  5. Good time management and working diligently towards deadlines help you make the time to attend client and firm events, dinners.
  6. Get involved by joining panels, attending conferences, writing academic papers, and even becoming a director of an organization are some other ways to do so.
  7. Know your client and understand their business, beyond the due diligence, to add the most value.
  8. Don’t be afraid to leverage your joint degree by promoting your law background in business, and your business background in law.
  9. Ensure accountability by keeping your words, and holding others to theirs.
  10. Be modest and recognize that there are a lot of other firms and practitioners  that can do an equally great job.

Is starting in law school too early?

Consultants and law firms look for not-so-surprisingly similar characteristics in people. For instance, juniors need to be hard working and intelligent. We observed that to be successful you do need to work long, hard, and smart. Many JD/MBAs students make excellent consultants, for instance, we have a foundational technical awareness of the law and good research and writing skills.

As lawyers, our appreciation of the financial and operational aspects of a deal help us from articling and beyond.

It is emphatically clear that both personal and business development are lifelong endeavors. As students, our job may be primarily to develop technical skills and designations, but that must not be to the exclusion of building relationships. Start by appreciating the people you go to school with; they will be your greatest asset.

As JD/MBAs, you already spend plenty of time collaborating with MBA and other Masters’ students from various backgrounds. These relationships broaden your exposure and are a major step towards the formation of a client base. In that sense, it’s clearly not too early to start. In fact, you’re already doing it!

 

The Osgoode-Schulich JD/MBA Students’ Association would like to thank everyone for their participation and continuous support.

We would especially like to thank our Osgoode and Schulich Alumni, and their respective firms for donating their time and wisdom.  We hope they will continue coming back to help future students as they did for us.