Successful Law Firm Business Development Training, Coaching and Sales Programs

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By Julie Savarino, Business Development Inc.

Competition and the pace of change in the legal industry have never been greater, nor has the pressure on lawyers at all levels to develop new business. This is largely the result of various client pressures. Clients are much less loyal, much more cost/fee sensitive, increasingly un-bundling their legal work and using a plethora of alternatives other than hiring outside law firms/lawyers. In addition, in the wake of large business consolidations and mergers, most major law firms (let’s say the world’s top 500 law firms) are essentially competing for the same, finite market of outside legal work, where demand has been and will continue to remain relatively flat for several more years.

Increasing numbers of firms are responding by providing formal business development training, coaching, and “sales” programs for its attorneys. As Jody Maier, Chief Marketing Officer and Managing Director of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, states: “Most lawyers come out of law school with little or no business development training. The demand for legal services has declined and even the most revered law firms are in competition with smaller and lesser-known firms that can charge lower fees for the same work. That’s why we offer a series of training [courses] for associates and junior partners on varying methods of business development and client service, as it is no longer good enough to just be a smart lawyer.”

Business development training budgets have tripled at many firms over the past 20 years. According to the 2011 Benchmarking Law Firm Marketing and Business Development survey conducted by the BTI Consulting Group, business development training was approximately 12.5 percent of a typical law firm’s marketing/business development budget in 2011. In 1992, the Law Firm Marketing Association (then NALFMA), found that business development training was approximately 4 percent of the total marketing budget for that year. While the overall percentage of budget invested in business development training has increased, so have total dollars, since law firm revenues themselves have grown since 1992.

Business development and client relations were named as the highest priority for law firm training and development programs in the 2012 survey conducted by The NALP Foundation for Law Career Research and Education (NALP), in which approximately 1,700 associates and law firm administrators participated. This is not surprising given the lengthened partnership track in the majority of law firms and the recent, new requirement to demonstrate an actual consistent stream of originated business in order to earn equity partner – or even income partner – status in most major law firms these days (unlike in past years, when simply showing thepotentialto develop business was enough to make partner). Given this current environment, this article strives to help law firms make their business development training dollars pay off for the firm and its owners.

Training Programs, Coaching and Sales Programs Distinguished
—Training Programs

Typically, training programs consist of educational instruction on strategy and skills. The objective of training is to transfer a standard set of information, knowledge and/or approaches, to increase comfort levels and develop new mind sets. Most quality training programs also include an opportunity to practice the skills and steps learned during the training session. A few examples of training based on core competencies and skill sets are:

Core Competency – Client Service and Loyalty (internal and external)

Skill sets: Listening; Reading a balance sheet/income statement; How to bill your time; Project/task management; Firm and client expectations; How to stay abreast of client needs; Effective writing; Gaining feedback, etc.

Core Competency – Relationship Development and Maintenance

Skill sets: What organizations to join and ways to contribute to them; Learning to network in person and on social media; Advanced networking; Best practices regarding follow-up, negotiation, entertainment and other client interaction; The sales process for lawyers, etc.

Core Competency – Your Personal Profile and Branding

Skill sets: Presentation/public speaking; Media-press relations; Use of social media; Webinar presentations; Best practices for attending or speaking at a conference/seminar, etc.

Core Competency – Advanced Client Development

Skill sets: Cross-selling, winning pitches and RFPs; Creating and presenting Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFAs); Client team leadership; Practice group leadership, etc.


Quality coaching should deliver – on an individual and routine basis – structured and personalized counsel, guidance, suggestions and support to help each participant attain their own personal business and client development objectives. Whereas training consists of imparting knowledge and information, personalized coaching helps participants take the information/knowledge gained and practice by applying it to actual situations. Coaches can be in-house lawyers, other law firm professionals, outside consultants or a combination.

Internal coaching can include organized programs, as well as more informal and ad-hoc activities. Some examples include:

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