Business planning for senior associates: laying the groundwork for revenue generation

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If you are a mid-level or senior associate and aspire to stay in private practice long-term, you already know that business development will be a factor in your ability to advance in the profession. The early years as a lawyer are primarily about acquiring the basic legal skills that allow you to practice competently and with relative independence. But as the window of promotion to attorney—and, ultimately, partner—approaches, a solid legal toolkit isn’t enough. Your company must be convinced that you can make a significant contribution to generating new business.

The good news is that business development doesn’t have to be daunting. If you lay the right foundation, this is something that will start to happen naturally. But the foundation is essential and requires proactive investment on your part. Business development planning is an iterative process, so the sooner you give it serious attention, the better off you will be when your company considers you for promotion. Don’t wait until you’re up for a lawyer or partner to get started. To that end, here are some helpful tips.

Write a business plan and update it regularly.

Even as a mid-level associate, you need a business plan. This is a living document that you should update at least once a year. Don’t wait to be in the promotion window to do it!

A solid business plan will include details of what you have achieved to date, the prospects you are actively working on, and your goals for the future. List and quantify any issues you have raised, noting which business or customer relationships would likely be transferable if you changed companies. List your business contacts, distinguishing between those you actively market to and others in your wider network. You should also make a list of attorneys who can be referral sources.

If you are writing a business plan for the first time, you may not have much say in your (yet non-existent) business volume. That’s absolutely fine! Instead, focus on the things you do to build your professional profile and lay the foundation for the future development of your business. What organizations are you involved in? What articles have you published? What about speaking opportunities? If you don’t already have experience in each of these categories, commit to building some over the next six months.

Foster a strong network, both in person and online.

It’s never too early to take networking seriously. Relationships worsen over time, often in unexpected ways, so there are substantial benefits to showing up early and maintaining an ongoing presence in the various communities you are affiliated with. The range of opportunities for effective networking is wider than ever, both in person and online. Remember that networking is about meeting and talking to people, with no immediate expectation of tangible gain. So try to relax and be human about it!

LinkedIn is an easy place to network. You can do it from anywhere, whenever you have a spare moment. LinkedIn is a great platform to present yourself as an expert in your field and connect with potential clients. Easy ways to get started include sharing news about your business and commenting on posts from your connections. As you become familiar with the platform, start sharing your own insights relevant to your area of ​​expertise. In the process, you will find yourself staying in better touch with existing contacts, as well as expanding your network with new contacts.

And don’t forget the “internal networking” within your own law firm. Getting to know lawyers outside of your practice group is essential. By gaining exposure to different practice areas, you lay the foundation for future cross-selling. A colleague who knows and trusts you is more likely to introduce you to clients and invite you to pitches.

If the concept of networking makes you anxious, set small achievable goals to help you feel more comfortable. For example, if you’re attending a happy hour event, commit to making three new contacts and posting a LinkedIn post about the event. And then swear to follow them. The most important thing is to start!

Take advantage of your mentors and learn from their experience.

If you’re a mid-level or senior associate, you probably have at least one or two mentors you trust to provide career guidance. (If you don’t, you should consider a lateral move to a company more committed to mentoring!) Business development is a great topic to explore with your mentors. Learn about their experience with generating income and what strategies have worked best for them. Share your business plan and ask for feedback. Ask your mentors to include you in business development activities and presentations whenever possible. If you show that you are committed to the business side of the business, most partners will be happy to help you learn the skills necessary to become a revenue generator.

In addition to a mentor within your firm, building a group of other advisors who know the legal market and the profession is never a bad idea. Form a relationship with an experienced recruiter (even if you’re not looking to move sideways at the moment), who knows the market and will contact you every six months or so to update you and give you advice, can only help you. A good recruiter can provide you with solid business development advice, a business plan template, and can even suggest changes to your plan.

Commit to getting out of your comfort zone.

Many associates find business development daunting because it’s new and requires you to put yourself forward and risk rejection. However, rest assured that these are learnable skills, provided you have the right mindset. Start by recognizing that you have to step out of your comfort zone to be successful and move forward. And keep in mind that building a volume of business does not happen overnight. Good luck, and remember that there are plenty of experts out there willing to help you shine!


Ed. Remark: This is the last installment of a series of articles by Lateral link team of expert contributors. Lauren Smith specializes in representing side market partners at the national level. She also has extensive experience in placing partners with AmLaw, regional and high-end law firms, as well as in-house counsel with companies of all sizes.


side link is one of the top rated international legal recruitment firms. With over 14 offices around the world, Lateral Link specializes in placing lawyers with the world’s most prestigious law firms and corporations. Run by former practicing lawyers from top law schools, Lateral Link has a tradition of hiring lawyers to perform the lateral jumps of practicing lawyers. Click on here to learn more about us.

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