New Survey: Business Development Now an Essential Skill for Law Firm Associates

Mike_cummings135 A groundbreaking new survey of the legal profession demonstrates that law firms are very interested in the capability of their associates to contribute to business development. "The research explodes the myth that law firms don't want the clients that associates can bring in, or that practice development is not important for associates," said Larry Bodine, operator of the LawMarketing Portal,

To the contrary, the survey results show that firms place great importance on the business development skills of their associates.  But ironically, 57% of law firms fail to provide them any training to generate new business.

"The survey demonstrates the crying need among young lawyers for practice development skills training. High expectations are being placed on associates without giving them the know-how," said Michael Cummings, head of the Sage Professional Business Institute,  "Law firms need to give associates the business development tools and education to succeed as professionals.  They owe it to their associates as caretakers of the associates' legal career.  And this investment makes sense when you consider that today's associates are the foundation and future for all law firms," he said.

The LawMarketing Portal and Sage Professional Development Institute published the results of the new survey, "Current Practices in Business Development for Associates," in September 2005.  The respondents were CMOs, Marketing Directors and partners at leading law firms.  The key findings are:

  • Business development is now an essential career skill.  93% of respondents in general believed it is essential for associates to be able to develop business to be successful in the legal profession. Only 6% said business development was "important but not essential" for associates.
  • To be promoted to partner, associates must demonstrate business development potential: 65% of respondents said that their firm's partners consider the business development capability of an associate as an extremely important or very important factor when considering the promotion of an associate to partner. (23% said it was "important," 10% said it was "somewhat important, and a mere 3% said it was "not at all important.")
  • Associates recognize that they must excel at business development to be successful: 87% of respondents said that the attitude prevailing among associates themselves is that business development is essential or important to be a long-term success in the legal profession.  Only 13% said that marketing and selling is "not essential" to becoming a partner and building a career.

Most Law Firms Failing to Respond to the Need

Based on the survey, law firms seem to be offering a minimal amount of formal business development training - especially compared to other professions such as investment banking, consulting, accounting and commercial banking, according to Cummings.

Asked "does your firm offer business development training to your junior and senior associates (10 or more hours a year)?" the responses were:

*        Only 43% said yes.

*        29% answered "No, but planning to this year."

*        A shocking 28% answered "No and not planning to."

Going into further detail, the survey asked respondents how many hours of business development training per year was provided at their firm, respondents said:

*        For senior associates (4+ years in practice), 25% said "none," 18% said 1-2 hours, 24% said 3-5 hours, 19% said 5-10 hours and 14% said more than 10 hours of training per year.

*        For junior associates, 27% said "none," 23% said 1-2 hours, 23% said 3-5 hours, 15% said 5-10 hours, and 13% said more than 10 hours of training per year.

"This is deplorable," Bodine said.  "Too many law firms are pressuring their lawyers to hunt for new business without showing them how."

To develop this survey, we searched public records exhaustively and found virtually no other research on the topic of associate business development.  The American Bar Association published a report "ABA Young Lawyers Division Survey: Career Satisfaction" in 2000.  However, it showed only that 90% of associates spent 20 or fewer hours per year on client development - (a negligible amount of time).

Forms of Business Development Training That Associates Require

Respondents to the new LawMarketing Portal/Sage Professional Business Institute survey ranked the importance of business development techniques for senior associates (4+ years in practice) in this order:

  1. Building their own network of professional relationships -- 97%
  2. Cultivating relationships with their "peers" at the client - 91%
  3. Becoming an active, visible member of a business organization - 78%
  4. Forming an alliance with other professionals (accounting, banking, industry related, etc.) - 71%
  5. Working with a partner to market a practice or industry specialty - 74%
  6. Writing articles and making speeches - 64%

Steps Associates Should Take

"Associates need to take the initiative and find ways to get the training and career development they need," Cummings said.

  1. Find self study options like books, DVDs or marketing programs.
  2. Get a mentor or personal coach (either inside the firm or in a related field).
  3. Start a special interest group at their firm to sponsor speakers, or attend Web seminars.
  4. Petition their firm's leadership to offer formal training
  5. Join an industry or practice specialty group at their firm.
  6. Develop a personal marketing plan with the help of their marketing director.

The survey was conducted online from August 22-26, 2005.  Respondents included law firm marketers and lawyers at firms ranging from a solo practice to a 2,500-lawyer firm.  Respondents were primarily from the U.S., and a small number were from Canada, the U.K., Mexico and Australia. The average size of respondents' firm was 148 lawyers. 

The LawMarketing Portal,, is the top online destination for law firm marketing, news and information.  The site receives 60,000 unique visitors per month.  It has been in continuous operation since 1996. The site includes articles on sales, marketing and technology, job openings, marketing events and links to the Professional Marketing Store and the LawMarketing Listserv.

The Sage Professional Business Institute, based in St. Charles, IL, is a publisher of best selling books for law firms including Best Practices of Legal Marketing and The Lawyer's Guide to Growing Your Network.

Sage and LawMarketing also offer business development training programs for lawyers and other professionals, including the upcoming Webinar, "Best Practices in Building Your Professional Network -- for Associates," on September 21, 2005.  For more information see or

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Comments (1) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Keith Longmire - September 12, 2005 8:48 AM

Is it really a surprise or shocking that most law firms don't have systematic business development programmes?
My experience is that business development receives lip service in most cash rich companies.

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