How to Create a Successful Business Development Culture in Law Firms

It’s your heads of practice groups that should drive BD activity – or else they might drive away your best associates

Client partners and heads of practice areas play a key role in influencing the BD performance of the people they manage and motivate. In fact, a study by Gallup suggests these partners are more important in driving sales results than anyone else in the firm, even the managing partner.

According to The Gallup Organization’s research (details below), 80% of an employee’s perception of their firm’s leaders was influenced by their relationship with their direct supervisor. So no matter how good the managing partner is, the employee’s view of the firm is likely to be strongly coloured by their opinion of their direct supervisor.

We may join a firm, but we work for a partner. Gallup has found that when top performers leave firms, 70% of the time it is strongly influenced by their relationship with their direct supervisor. And conversely, when there are stars, there is almost always a good partner in the wings.

A managing partner’s speech, no matter how motivating, does not create the firm’s culture.

Bonuses and perks are not the main contributors to firm’s cultures.

Front-line partners create cultures within their teams.

What is culture, exactly?

Let’s define “culture.” A common simple definition is “the way we do things around here”.

We all know that the cultures of individual practice areas within firms vary widely. What is driving these different workgroup cultures within firms? The difference is primarily the partner leading the practice group. The partner sets the culture for his or her team, and the strength or weakness of that culture directly links to client engagement levels and to business outcomes.

Good intentions, bad results

No partner gets up every day and goes to work determined to create the worst possible culture for his or her employees. But some partners unfailingly achieve this result. The main reasons are:

  1. First, some firms just promote or laterally hire the wrong people into practice management roles.
  2. Even if the latent talent is there, it’s a tricky job and most partners in management roles lack management training. Most lawyers receive a huge amount of training to be a lawyer. But how much training do they get to be a good leader?

As a result, many practice group leaders have little understanding of what they must do to ensure a positive environment for their team members – a culture that contributes to the improved performance of their most productive employees.


How can firms find the right people to be partners – the individuals who have good intentions and can produce outstanding results?

First, firms can stop moving the wrong people into leadership roles. I believe firms need to pay more attention to selecting the right candidate for every management position. Sometimes this involves building a talent pool, by recruiting people with the talent to become outstanding partners into the firm at a more junior level.

The bottom line is clear: Partners are instrumental in creating the right workgroup culture for effective business development. Selecting and training BD-oriented partners is one of the best and surest ways to improve the quality of your BD efforts.

And BD functions – what can you do to win over more practice groups heads?


This entry was posted in Business Development and Selling, Leadership and Management, Managing Change, Strategy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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