Employed solicitors need to engage positively with business development
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employed solicitors

Practice building by employed solicitors: mindset and motivation challenges

In my last article I discussed why employed solicitors need to start building their own practice now.

But understanding importance is the easy bit: making it happen is trickier

Why?   Well there are a number of reasons:

  • lack of skills
  • lack of principals time to develop and nurture such skills
  • lack of tangible incentives (billable hours nearly always take priority)
  • mindset challenges  such as low confidence, limiting beliefs, low motivation
I find mindset challenges to be the biggest challenge. Skills can be developed but if there are mindset challenges, the intrinsic pain of uncomfortable activity can easily outweigh any vague or marginal extrinsic benefits.  Just as some solicitors have mindset challenges in relation to client-facing activity generally, there are a number of reasons why employed solicitors might be reluctant to embrace the joys of business development.

Professional self-esteem

For many lawyers, their self-esteem is based around their status as a professional. Expertise, knowledge, technical skills, experience, cleverness. Yes, ethics too. These are the things that bring peer and practice recognition, professional respect and personal satisfaction. This is what lawyers, as professionals, focus on.  Business development? Nah, doesn’t bring the same pride or status for most professionals.

Technical comfort zone

The comfort zone is where people feel at ease, in control and with low stress. For many lawyers, their comfort zone is the actual legal work in terms of researching, drafting guidance etc.  Business development takes lawyers out of their comfort zone, and they instinctively or sub-consciously draw back by making business development a low priority – engaging in dubious self-justification as to why they should spend more time on other tasks.


In her book, Quiet, Susan Cain suggested that 60% of lawyers (and 90% of intellectual property lawyers!) are introverts, and she also goes on to document the many strengths that introverts have in relation to customer-facing activities and building deep rapport. Introverts may, however, find it more personally challenging to initially engage with and build rapport with customers, and therefore draw back from such activity. The issue is one of motivation, confidence and discipline – not skill.

Fear of failure

Another challenge is that business development activity carries with it the risk of real or perceived failure. What if I can’t bring in work? What if I’m no good at it? What if they don’t like me? The pessimistic, perfectionist legal mindset may pull back from business development activity to avoid the risk of either ‘failure’, negative feedback or any questioning of abilities.


Motivation and mindset

So what can be done?

The above makes it sounds like an uphill struggle to get some employed solicitors to embrace marketing. But people struggle uphill all the time: its just a case of putting one foot in front of the other. Here are some ways that practices can make it easier for themselves.


Stick to the comfort zone

The more you ask people to step outside their comfort zone, the more resistance you will get. Some people will simply never truly embrace the ghastly prospect of event-based networking for example. But that doesn’t mean they can’t market. The good thing about business development is that there’s more than one way to build a practice, and there is often room for people to play to their strengths.

If people like cold calling and coffee catch-ups, great. Others might be better at writing blogs, co-ordinating campaigns, SEO, speaking, building their personal brand by attaining higher level qualifications, or managing a limited number of referral relationships.

If you can, let people play to their strengths. There is no reason why everyone should be expected to engage in the exact same activity.

Framing and positioning

To help get over any fears of rejection/failure, it can also help to frame or position the business development challenge. Practice building is a long game and almost all activity helps: there should be no such thing as ‘failure’. The important thing is to make a start, rather than worry about measuring immediate results – and framing the business development challenge in this way can help reduce the performance anxieties that can kill confidence.

Build confidence

Confidence is the most important thing. Most people will instinctively draw back from activities they lack confidence in. Getting junior solicitor to engage in business development is one activity that requires real positive leadership rather than ‘demand-and-criticise’ performance management.

So give people training that focusses on mindset challenges as well as skills and strategies. But also offer support and real encouragement, celebrate even minor successes, and paint a picture of how successful they could be. Getting people to recognise and enjoy their success is vital to creating the confidence and intrinsic rewards and motivation that will drive people go further.

Real incentives

For most professionals, the most powerful incentives are the intrinsic ones. Ahhh, the thrill of the chase, the swagger that comes with a successful kill!

But tangible incentives can help too. Activities that get rewarded get done, and without tangible recognition, a practice is really saying the business development doesn’t really matter, and ‘please just get on with your 6.5hrs’.

In my experience, financial rewards have to be significant to be effective. Few busy people bust a gut for an extra 3% on salary, and the best will act as desired even without an incentive. To be real, financial incentives need to offer an increase of a minimum of 10% on base salary (preferably more).

Better to make business development (however measured) both

  • a required component of the minimum standards expected of every solicitor as part of their employment, and
  • a clear differentiator for promotion and advancement.

Solicitors are a conscientious bunch and most will respond positively, especially with positive monitoring and support. Even where this approach results in a less than ideal ‘compliance mindset’, at least the requirement gets them out there developing skills and building their confidence.


Personal coaching

Some employed solicitors will just instinctively ‘get’ why practice building is important for both the practice and them personally. Others might understand at a rational level, but never really ‘feel’ the importance of business development (and it is of course feelings that drive behaviour). Others still would have excuses as to why business development isn’t a priority for them right now.

Personal coaching can help. A good coach (and yes, partners can be good coaches) can ask the right questions to highlight personal goals, identify limiting beliefs and help people make the breakthrough they need to really ‘feel’ the need to change their behaviours and embrace business development.


Want to learn more?

Register now for Practice building essentials – a workshop for junior solicitors, Brisbane, July 19.

Or contact me on 0404 266174 / [email protected] to discuss in-house training for your team.










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