How to Cultivate a Business Development Mindset

What do you think is one of the most powerful obstacles to business development success for lawyers?

Despite their busy schedules, it isn’t a lack of time. It’s not about the lack of money, either. It’s not even that you don’t know how to do it, although law school certainly didn’t teach it.

Simply put: it’s your mindset. It’s the stories you tell yourself that stop you from taking (or fully committing to) consistent, targeted action. And it’s the biggest impediment I’ve come across again and again with lawyers I meet.

In this episode of The Lawyer’s Edge podcast, you’ll learn 7 tips that will help you cultivate a successful business development mindset. I’ll teach you a thought process that will inspire you to start taking action in the direction of your goals and stick with it consistently!




2:57 – What business development success and that criminal law class you took in your first year have in common

5:27 – The first thing you can do to cultivate your business development mindset for success

8:14 – Two things you need to recognize about business development and one thing you shouldn’t expect to see

11:26 – The people you shouldn’t listen to and the responses you don’t want to give to everyone else and yourself

14:12 – A change that’ll make it more likely for you to focus on and engage with business development

Mentioned In How to Cultivate a Business Development Mindset

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Hi, everyone. It's Elise Holtzman here, a former practicing lawyer and the host of The Lawyer's Edge Podcast, where I sit down with successful attorneys, legal marketing specialists, business leaders, and authors to talk about how lawyers and law firms can grow and sustain healthy, profitable businesses.

Today, we're going to talk about an overlooked element of business development success, a factor that is so important that all the business development strategies and tactics in the world aren't going to make up for it if it's not there.

If you are a private practice lawyer who talks about wanting to engage in business development but is constantly dragging your feet or finding every excuse in the book not to do it, like the world-famous “I don't have time” or occasionally taking a stab at business development, trying something over here, going to an event over there, and then just throwing in the towel early in the game because you don't feel like you know what you're doing, this episode is definitely for you.

Let's talk about one of the most powerful obstacles to business development success that lawyers run into and how to overcome it. Believe it or not, it's not just a lack of time. I know you're super busy, but that's not what the true obstacle is. It's not that you don't have enough money to do it. It's not that you didn't grow up with a silver spoon in your mouth or a little black book in your pocket, all of which may be true.

It's not even that you don't know how to do it, although that's a really big one, and we talk about that in multiple episodes of this show. After all, they didn't teach us that stuff in law school. It's something completely different. The biggest obstacle I encounter over and over with lawyers when it comes to business development is mindset. The stories you're telling yourself that will stop you in your tracks and keep you from getting what you really want.

Sometimes coaches call it head trash or we call it gremlins, the voice inside your head that talks smack about you and tells you what you're not going to be able to do, or why you shouldn't do it, why would anybody hire you, all of those sorts of things. That stuff really gets in people's way.

As I said before, you can have all of the best strategies, you can come up with all these great tactics, you're going to go out and talk to people and you're going to speak, you're going to write, and you're going to do all of these proven strategies, but what we really need to talk about today is things you can do to cultivate a mindset, a thought process that's going to motivate and inspire you to either start taking action on business development or to take concrete, specific, consistent action in business development and stick with it. Sticking with it is critical because you only get results when you commit to doing it over the long haul.

Before we dive in deep, let's go back to your first year in law school because who doesn't want to relive that fabulous experience? We're going to talk about your criminal law class for a minute. Do you remember the two elements of a crime?

I'm going to help you out here. For some of us, it's been quite a few years since we were in crim. The two elements of a crime are mens rea, a guilty mind, and actus reus's guilty action.

The idea is that there's no crime unless you have both of those. Why am I telling you this? Am I here to teach you how to be a successful criminal? No, we'll have to be clear on that. If I were trying to teach you how to be a successful criminal, I would remind you that you need both of those elements in order to be successful.

As an example, if you go home tonight and think of 20 different ways to torture your ex-significant other, but you don't take any action in furtherance of those thoughts, it's not a crime. We don't prosecute people just for their bad thoughts.

In the alternative, if you go out and drive your car and there's a horrible situation where you hit someone with your car and they're injured or they die, is that a crime? Well, we don't really know. Was it a complete accident? You slid on the ice? Was it negligence? Was it recklessness? Did you actually intend to go out and do that to your ex or whoever it was that you hit?

The action by itself is not enough to call it a crime. Stick with me here. The same idea applies to business development success. You need a success mindset as well as success-oriented action in order to get results. You need what I like to call Mens Successum, a success-oriented mindset along with Actus Successum, doing the right things and taking the right actions in order to get results.

To be clear, the mindset isn't enough. You can sit on your couch in a lotus position all day long, put good thoughts into the universe, and have the right mindset. But if you're not taking action on it, you're not getting anywhere.

Action without the right mindset is just robotically going through the motions and that doesn't get you the best results either. Without the success mindset, most people won't take the action at all or they take a couple of half-hearted stabs at it and throw in the towel.

Let's talk about seven things you can do to cultivate your Mens Successum, a success mindset for business development. First, understand the importance of growing your own book of business.

You're a logical person. You're not going to work hard to achieve something without having a good idea of why it makes sense to continue the effort or make the effort. Connecting with your why will inspire you and give you the motivation you need to move forward.

Your why is going to be different from the next person's why, but there are certain categories that come up for people when it comes to this topic. Having your own book of business gives you the power of choice. It allows you to call the shots in your own career, to work on the best matters, to work with the people you most enjoy, to not have to work with the people who make you crazy.

It gives you influence inside the firm. Maybe you have the opportunity to participate in decision-making for the firm. Should it be this way? Should it be that only the rainmakers and the people who bring in a consistent stream of business get to make the decisions, get to call the shots in their own career, get to work on the best matters with the people they most enjoy? Maybe not.

But the reality is that's how law firms are set up. Growing your own book of business also allows you to earn higher compensation. I'm talking about money, but it's never just about the money. The money is more often about being able to provide for the people you love.

Maybe reduce financial stress, increase financial stability, plan for the future, have peace of mind. Having a book of business, as I mentioned a minute ago, also gives you influence in your organization when it comes to leadership, decision-making, helping determine the future of the firm, rather than allowing other people to make a decision about where the firm is going, and by extension, where you're going.

It also allows you to have the ability to go somewhere else, to lateral into another firm if you want to, because service partners typically have many fewer options available to them.

There are so many lawyers out there that are not happy with their situations, and they get to a certain stage in their career where they'd like to make a move, but then they realize that they are not considered attractive to law firms to come in as laterals because they don't have a book of business. That's true no matter how skilled they are at their job, and no matter how great their reputation is.

Number one is understanding the importance of growing your own book of business. Why it's important to you personally, keeping that in the forefront of your mind all the time. Your why.

The second thing you can do to cultivate a success mindset is to recognize that business development can be learned. Some people think that rainmakers are born, not made, that you either have it or you don't. More than 15 years of experience working with lawyers on business development has demonstrated to me that that's just not the case.

Sure, are there people that seem to be more natural at business development than others? No question about it, but that's true for any skill. Business development can be learned. You're not such an old dog that you can't learn new tricks. You've learned everything in the past that you've put your mind to. This is just another thing to learn and get comfortable with.

Number three, realize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to business development. You can do it your way. I hear from people all the time, things like, “Elise, you don't understand. I'm an introvert. I can't really develop business because I hate big networking events. I can't go just glad hand to people and make idle conversation. It just all seems so fake to me.”

Here's the thing. Most lawyers are introverts. Research demonstrates that. There are legions of lawyers who are introverts who are tremendous rainmakers. I hear people say, "Well, I don't like public speaking, so I'm not going to be able to do this thing."

Well, maybe you don't like public speaking, but you love writing articles. Maybe you just love taking people out to lunch and getting to know them one-on-one. There are many different ways to engage in business development successfully, and the goal is for you to find that way that makes sense for you.

Number four, don't expect instant gratification. You're going to make yourself crazy, and again, you're going to throw in the towel. Everyone wants instant gratification, totally understandable. You're working hard, you want to see the results.

When you're working on a matter and you work hard on that, you can often see results fairly quickly. Even if it's a protracted deal or a protracted litigation, you can check off boxes and see the results of your labors.

Business development, to use a very trite phrase, but a very appropriate phrase in this instance is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time to cultivate relationships. You're not going to go out to lunch with somebody and have them call you the next morning necessarily and say, “Eureka, I found you, you're the best lawyer in the world, I want to hire you.”

It happens from time to time, but don't expect that. It also takes time to grow your reputation and authority as someone who is a go-to lawyer for the kind of work you do. Many lawyers get frustrated when they speak on a panel or they write an article and they say, "Well, I didn't get any business out of it."

It really doesn't work that way. Again, you're not likely to write an article, have it published, and the next day your email box is full of prospective clients or the phone is ringing off the hook.

If you don't expect instant gratification, if you understand that this takes time, that you're building something here, that you're putting in place a foundation that is going to serve you in the future, you'll be much more likely to engage in business development activities.

Five, don't listen to the naysayers. I spoke to a partner at a law firm recently, she's a very junior partner, her name is Natalie. She talked to her senior partners about business development and they told her kindly that she's too quiet to develop her own book of business.

They said, "You're kind of quiet. You're not likely to be able to do this, so just do really good work. Build your reputation as someone who does really good work, and maybe in the future, our existing clients will wind up coming to you,” like their succession plan for her, “Our existing clients will come to you because they will trust you over time and want to hire you.”

To me, that's complete insanity. Telling somebody who's a quiet person that they can't develop their own book of business is unfair and, more importantly, inaccurate. If you hear something like that, it can be really demoralizing and daunting, and you might doubt yourself, but you need to brush it off and keep going.

There's a quote from author Jack Canfield. He says something like stop hanging out with the "Ain't it Awful" Club. Stop talking to people or letting them affect you who only have negative things to say about your abilities or who don't believe in you.

A lot of that stems from their own insecurities with what they're doing. It's really not about you. They're not business development experts. So don't let someone else's uneducated opinion throw you off track.

Number six, don't keep saying yes to everyone else while saying no to yourself. Most lawyers show up as being highly responsible, reliable, and productive. That is what drives them.

They want to get out of bed every day to do a good job, check off the boxes, get the work done right, drive it across the finish line. They also want to be helpful to those around them, to be team players, to say yes.

You're in the service business, so of course you want to be of service to other people. When you keep saying yes to other people, you are saying no to yourself. I'm not suggesting you say no to everyone for everything.

You've got to pick and choose what a good opportunity is for you. But when you are building someone else's dream, you're not paying attention to building your own. We've already established that for a whole host of reasons, developing your own book of business is very important to you.

In tip number one, we talked about your why. Don't allow yourself to get sucked in when somebody else wants you to do something that's going to only serve their needs and not serve yours.

Finally, one of the top pieces of advice that I give my clients is to change your job description. You're not just a lawyer anymore. You're also in the business of marketing your legal services.

When you change your job description to include business development as one of your primary roles, you are much more likely to engage in it. As I mentioned before, lawyers are typically driven to be reliable, responsible, and productive.

If business development is just a nice to have in the spaces, something I do when I'm feeling stressed out because I know I haven't been doing it, something that I do at certain formal times, for example, when I go to the annual holiday party of the Bar Association, it's going to be a catch-as-catch-can experience. It's not something you're going to be focusing on.

However, if it is part of your everyday role and you make it part of your job description, you're going to focus on it because what you're doing is recognizing that it's important and it needs to happen on a regular basis.

The takeaway here is that cultivating a positive business development mindset is essential if you are going to commit to growing your practice. Taking action is critical, of course, but you're not likely to do the work if your attitude isn't aligned with your goals.

Is there something wrong with you for not having a positive business development mindset? Absolutely not. In many ways, there's almost no reason you would start out with a positive mindset about this topic. They didn't teach us business development in law school.

Most law firms don't teach business development skills either because after all, they're not in the business of teaching business development skills. They're in the business of serving their clients.

To the extent you don't have the right mindset about business development and you're driving yourself crazy and telling yourself all the reasons you can't do it, it's completely understandable. It's just not desirable.

So I encourage you to use these tips and ideas to shift your mindset so that you can pursue your business development goals. It may not happen overnight. You've got to stay the course, but you can do this. This is the kind of work we do with our clients all the time, whether it's in individual coaching, group coaching, or our group programs like Lawyers Making Rain or the IGNITE Women's Business Development Accelerator.

If this topic resonated with you today, it's time for us to have a conversation. Reach out to us at to find out how we can be helpful to you as you pursue your business development goals.

Thank you for tuning in. If you've enjoyed today's show, please subscribe, rate, and review us at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app. In the meantime, be bold, take action, and make things happen. We'll see you next time.

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