ALM: New Partners Fear Having to Originate Business

October 23, 2012

The lead story in today's Law.com distribution of The American Lawyer Daily touted, "Survey: Generally Content, New Partners Fear Lack of Training Will Hamper Ability to Win Clients." One new partner quoted lamented, "I learned how to practice law, but I was not trained in how to develop business." Claire Zillman reports on the internal ALM study.

There is no question that this training issue is changing--I would not say rapidly, but there are certainly firms willing to invest significant sums of money in BD training ranging from entry as summer associates right through the partnership ranks. I recently saw a 100-attorney firm invest one million dollars in BD development for partners. More and more firms are taking professional development more seriously. Yet, there are still what might be a majority of firms that don't truly rank BD capabilities in partnership evaluations. I've met many a senior partner that has railed about the laziness of new partners, inability to originate, resting on the work of the past generation, etc., etc. We've all heard it.

Read the story and related survey for yourself. Last week, I chatted with a partner at an AMLAW 100 firm that was telling me how his firm did not credit any unbillable time toward year-end compensation. How do you get people to invest for the future, at the expense of the present, without incentive? There is a middle ground, and that should be the goal. Many of my clients refuse to train associates beyond some basics such as legal research. Yet, if I push too hard, the only lost BD will be my own. The truly great rainmakers usually took the long road--and have been able to benefit for the long haul.

The other stark reality for senior associates working up the ranks should be this--get BD help and get better at it, because you want to, not because the firm dictated it. In my work years, inside and outside the law, I have always believed that the majority of the time, the biggest revenue-producer is the most important player. You might think of yourself as generating revenue because you are billing hours--but in reality, you are simply delivering the services for the big man or woman that brought the work in the door. Yes, the bulk of the onus for providing, encouraging and fostering better business (and professional) development is on the management of the law firm, but some of the weight rests on the shoulders of the future "part-owner" of the law firm.