Swimming Lessons For Baby Sharks: Practical Advice For New Lawyers

Q: I need to start paying more attention to business development. But it’s very hard to keep up with that when I am really busy. And it’s not my favorite thing to do anyway. Are there things I can do to “force” myself to be more consistent about business development?

A: It’s always easiest – and often essential – to do urgent things first. But as you realize, there can be a cost to letting business development languish.

Here are some tips that may help:

  1. Set modest goals. Particularly if you are busy, it may be easier for you to justify putting off tasks that seem daunting. But if you have a goal of sending two emails a day or spending just six minutes on business development, you remove the excuse that the task is too big or overwhelming.


  1. Aim for consistency. Once you have identified some goals that you can accomplish regularly, try to make them a habit. Set reminders and try to do your business development tasks every single day – even if you are burning the midnight oil. There are lots of habit tracking apps you can use to measure your progress. Try to reward yourself for staying on track for a certain amount of time – as long as the reward is something other than taking a break from your business development activities. And if you do miss a day or two, don’t give yourself a pass. Make up the missed activities as soon as you can.


  1. Start early. If you do your business development activities first thing in the morning, you won’t run out of time later in the day. As you recognize, it’s easy to tell yourself you can do something tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.


  1. Create an Urgent-Important Matrix. Categorize all of your tasks as being either important or unimportant and either urgent or non-urgent. And create four groups: 1) urgent and important; 2) not urgent but important; 3) urgent but not important; and 4) not urgent and not important. Business development activities and work to enhance your substantive skills generally fall in the second category: not urgent, but important. Because these tasks are not urgent, try to reserve regular time on your calendar to make sure they don’t languish. And try to delegate tasks that are not important. Off-loading the unimportant tasks (which may also be boring tasks) can free up time for more important endeavors.


  1. Remember that business development is an investment in yourself. Business development – along with enhancing your substantive skills – makes you more valuable and creates opportunities. Remind yourself that investing in your skills and your network is the key to advancing. As soon as the swirl abates, redouble your efforts to develop business.


  1. Be strategic. Because you have limited time, target activities that will yield the greatest benefits. It may help to get a partner’s insights on the firm’s strategic direction or the business development approaches the partner found to be most productive.


  1. If you register for a conference, you are likely to go. If you schedule a dinner with a client, you are unlikely to cancel. If you schedule electronic or paper cards (there are apps for this), they will go out. When you have scheduled specific activities, especially if they involve a commitment to someone else, you are likely to follow through.


  1. Put LinkedIn on your phone. Having the LinkedIn app on your phone helps you keep up with contacts on the fly. Drink coffee with one hand and send a “Happy Birthday” message with the other. But avoid LinkedIn’s automated messages. LinkedIn doesn’t realize that humans do not refer to one another by first name and middle initial. So LinkedIn’s canned messages are often something like “Congrats Veronica M.” That tells Veronica that you cared enough to push a button – but not enough to type.

Good luck!

Join the conversation by submitting questions on Twitter @Babysharklaw or here. Get the new Second Edition of Swimming Lessons for Baby Sharks here.

Grover E. Cleveland is a Seattle lawyer, speaker and author of Swimming Lessons for Baby Sharks: The Essential Guide to Thriving as a New Lawyer (West 2d. 2016). Grover specializes in programs to help new lawyers successfully transition from law school to practice, helping them provide more value and avoid common mistakes. He is a former partner at Foster Pepper PLLC, one of the Northwest’s larger firms. His clients included the Seattle Seahawks and other entities owned by Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen. Grover is a frequent presenter on lawyer career success and generational issues at leading law firms and schools nationwide. Many questions in this column come from those programs. Readers may submit questions here or follow him on Twitter @Babysharklaw. He is not related to the 22nd and 24th President of the United States.

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