Legal Business Development: Embrace Uncertainty With Certainty

Uncertainty… is a lawyer’s discomfort. When I sit down with clients and ask them to “project how many cases this business development initiative could produce,” they squirm in their seats. Then they say… “It depends on… I don’t know if… It’s hard to say.” It happens every time!

As lawyers, you are trained to find the certainty and the precedence. You want to know the answer before you ask the question. That is what makes you good lawyers. But, it is also what makes you lousy business development planners and strategists!

Strategizing requires that you: make educated guesses, take leaps of faith, look into a crystal ball and just plain… DREAM! I know these aren’t typical lawyer traits, and it makes you extremely uncomfortable. But, I promise you with practice it could be inspiring… and most importantly I know it works.

What do you want 2012 to look like?

Dream about… how many new clients you would like to acquire; dominating an industry; being a thought leader in your field; getting higher paying work and working less.

Look into a crystal ball… and project the amount of business you will get from current clients; if you give several speeches to an industry group how many potential new clients could you build relationships with; if you start blogging every week, how many cases could you expect to get?

Make an educated guess… look at the revenue you brought in this year and project what you will do next year; look at the number of cases you worked on this year and project what you will do next year; based on the focus you placed on one practice area what could you expect to do if you placed your focus on another area?

Nobody has the RIGHT answers to any of these questions. They are simply predictions and most importantly targets. Something to shoot for!

Do you need an attitude adjustment?

What are the images you carry around in your head? What are the words you tell yourself and others? Are they going to take you where you want to go?

Are they something like? I’m too busy… or I WILL make time? I’ll never complete this by the deadline… or somehow someway I WILL get this done? I think they need me… or I KNOW they need me? I can’t write that article… or I WILL write that article? It’s going to take me forever to do this… or I have two hours, I CAN do this? This isn’t ever going to happen… or I WILL make this happen? I don’t know what I want… or I KNOW what I want?

What’s your mindset? Confidence… in what you think and tell yourself and others breeds trust in your abilities. Believe it! It’s all about commitment. So what are YOU committed to? Success and a life that works… or chaos and never quite getting there? You have a choice.

Do it NOW! 

Business development activities are usually last on most lawyers’ list. Let’s be honest… if you don’t develop business you don’t have a practice. You have a desk with someone feeding you. That is the reality. 2012 should be the year you put business development as a priority and procrastination behind you. Here is a very interesting observation I read in David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done..

“Why Bright People Procrastinate the Most”. It’s really the smartest people who have the highest number of undecided things in their lives and on their lists. Why is that? Think of how our bodies respond to the images we hold in our minds. It appears that the nervous system can’t tell the difference between a well-imagined thought and reality.

If your body responds to pictures you give it, how are you likely to feel physically when you think about, say, doing your taxes? Are you sending yourself “easy”, “let’s go,” completion, success and “I’m a winner!” pictures? Probably not. For just that reason, what kinds of people would be the most resistant to being reminded about a project like that… that is, who would procrastinate the most? Of course, it would be the most creative, sensitive, and intelligent people. Because their sensitivity gives them the capacity of producing in their minds lurid nightmare scenarios about what might be involved in doing a project, and all the negative consequences that might occur if it weren’t done perfectly! They just freak out in an instant and quit!”

WOW! Does that sound like anyone you know? No wonder, all we have to do is mention BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT and some lawyers start thinking about how it never works and how uncomfortable it is to even try. NOW that you know this… knowledge is power… you don’t have to let your mind run away with you. You can recognize when it’s happening and push through it.

Embrace uncertainty with certainty… It’s simply a muscle you need to exercise. The act of business development requires a different mind-set than you are used to. Do projections and be open-minded. Speak to yourself and others with confidence. And get into action NOW! Take a leap of faith… that if you put in the time and effort, it WILL pay-off. I promise you… I’ve witnessed my clients do it, time and time again.

Black Pearl: Here’s an article by Johnny B. Truant, 6 ways to Master Entrepreneurial Uncertainty. There are insights that lawyers could gain from Johnny’s observations.


  1. Julian Summerhayes

    Great post. As a recovering litigation lawyer who now works in the world of business development, I recognise all these issues. The best book lawyers can read is Do the Work by Stephen Pressfield.

  2. Thanks Julian… I haven’t read it. I pickup a copy.

  3. I will check out both books…!

    “project how many cases this business development initiative could produce”

    What do you suggest as a starting point for estimating/making and educated guess as to your new cases in 2012… how many you ideally would like to have (your dream)? double your number of new cases for 2011? as much work as you can manage? Is there a starting point that we can use to start our dream…how do I get started???

  4. I should clarify – You give some strategies for getting started (what to think about) but in terms of getting started I mean…is there a formula I can use… how do I record and commit these ideas to make sure they happen…?

  5. Good question Christine. Your projections should be based on your results from last year. How many cases did you work on, how much were they worth and where did they come from? Do you think you could do 10% more? 20% more? 30% more? Can you work smarter… so you can handle more cases? AND the most important thing… put it all on paper. What gets committed to paper, gets committed to… plain and simple!