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Best Practice Tips: Business Development for New Associate Attorneys

Asked and Answered

By John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Q. I am a partner in a 14-attorney firm in Denver. We have six equity partners and eight associate attorneys in the firm. Our practice is limited to health care law. We represent many local hospitals. Our associates range from those who have been with the firm less than one year to those who have been with the firm for over 15. None of our associates have developed business development skills and none of them have ever brought in a single client. Most would be unable to retain existing clients if the partners left the firm. This is in part our fault. When we hired them, we told them that we had plenty of client work and their mission was to bill hours and service our clients. However, as we the partners age and consider the future of the firm, we are beginning to realize that this was a mistake. How can we turn this around?

A. The earlier that attorneys start to build client development into their weekly routines, the easier it will be for them to bring in business later. Many successful rainmaking attorneys began their business development efforts early in their careers, usually during their first year or two as attorneys. This is a pattern that you want your attorneys to emulate. The firm should set expectations about the kind of effort the firm is looking for at each level in an attorney’s career. It should then support these expectations with appropriate training for each level. Training should begin as soon as an attorney is hired. During the initial firm new associate training session, provide an hour’s instruction on client development. That will help new associate hires realize that they will have to bring in business later in their careers and they can start building a foundation for later business development efforts immediately. The quantity of education on client development should increase as an attorney advances within the firm. This should be reinforced by mentors assigned to associate attorneys.

When your associates reach the point in their careers when they should be bringing in business, the focus on business development needs to increase. Business goals should be developed and attorneys at this level should be required to prepare annual personal business development plans. These goals and plans should be linked performance reviews and to compensation.

It will take time to create this culture in your firm.  It may be too late for some. I would announce that it is a new day, launch a program, and stay on top of it.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC, ( is a past chair and member of the ISBA Standing Committee on Law Office Management and Economics and author of The Lawyers Guide to Succession Planning published by the ABA. For more information on law office management please direct questions to the ISBA listserver, which John and other committee members review, or view archived copies of The Bottom Line Newsletters. Contact John at

Posted on November 29, 2017 by Sara Anderson
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