What's Your Business Development Baggage?

It’s my first meeting with John, a mid-career M&A partner at a major law firm and an excellent technical lawyer. Since becoming a partner, he’s developed a modest amount of business and supports his practice group leader on servicing one of the firm’s institutional clients – a client that now comes to him directly for certain transactions.

“So, what brings you to business development coaching?” I ask him. John becomes visibly upset. His shoulders rise up to meet his ears at the same time he puts both hands on either side of his head grabbing big chunks of hair while he stares down at the conference room table. He tells me he feels “resentful,” “exhausted” and “deflated.” I implore him to share more about what’s been going on. This is what he says:

  • His salary has been flat for 3 years.
    While John is well-regarded at his firm and his total hours have been steadily going up each year, the numbers that are being tracked for his compensation (ex: specifically his “responsible attorney” credits) are staying flat.
     
  • He’s over-extended with respect to non-billable activities.
    At this point, he’s on three committees: the Recruiting Committee, the Associates Committee, and the Mentoring Committee. He’s also the Professional Development
    Partner for his group and, in addition to being formally assigned to mentor three associates, has found himself serving as an informal mentor to 3 others.
     
  • There’s never enough time.
    Between his practice, firm citizenship responsibilities, his two-hour round-trip commute and his recent acceptance of a leadership position on the board of a finance related non-profit organization – which he joined to boost his business development activities –, it feels like there are just too few hours in the day.

  • He can’t seem to say “no.”
    John has tried to say no to some of these different responsibilities, but when he did he was told by his firm that because his “responsible attorney” hours were lower than expected it would be “a good idea” to supplement with firm citizenship time.
     
  • He has parental guilt.
    All of this is compounded by this persistent and overwhelming feeling of guilt that he isn’t more involved in his teenage children’s lives. One is in the process of applying to college, and the other has been struggling with an ADHD diagnosis. He knows they would benefit from more of his time and his being more “present” when they’re together.
     
  • He’s experiencing marital stress.
    John’s spouse is also a partner in a major law firm who has a similar transactional practice. Between the hours they both work, it often feels like they’re ships passing in the night.
     
  • He’s suffering from a major energy shortage.
    As a result of all of the above, he feels completely stuck in his current situation, is having trouble sleeping, isn’t exercising, nor devoting any time to him own self-care.

“John” isn’t a specific, or even a singular, case, but in fact a fictitious amalgam of the dozens and dozens of law firm partners (both men and women) we’ve coached over the years with respect to business development. More often than not, partners are clear on what they need to do, but, nonetheless, something is holding them back such that they struggle to take action and to move the needle forward. Sometimes, they can be in a state of feeling overwhelmed or disengaged such that they can’t even get to the goal-setting stage. In either case, we call this “BD Baggage.”

When coaching partners who express some of these struggles, the focus of the engagement cannot be entirely on sales and marketing skills and strategy, as one might expect. For John, before we can tackle the technical aspects of increasing “responsible attorney credits” by some percent, we need to unpack this baggage and put all the items back safely and neatly where they belong. For him, that means spending time to help him: a) feel healthier and happier, b) free up time in his calendar and c) increase his engagement and motivation.

When you acknowledge and address your “BD Baggage,” your business development journey can go much more smoothly and efficiently. Join us on the upcoming posts in this “BD Baggage” blog series as we define, diagnose, unpack and eliminate what might be weighing down your business development efforts.