Are You Missing Out On Internal Business Development Opportunities?

When most of us consider business development, we consider fostering our relationships with existing clients, prospecting for new potential clients, asking for (and hoping for) referrals, and growing our network outside the firm.

But there’s another aspect to business development that many lawyers don’t consider. “Internal business development has been just as, or more important than external business development in my experience,” says Julia Forbess, a partner at Fenwick & West.

What is internal business development? For an associate, the critical feature is to treat partners as your clients. In addition to having work assigned to you, increase your visibility. And practice business development skills with your internal clients. The more matters you can work on for your partners’ clients, the more experience you’ll gain, and you may also increase your visibility to their external clients.

How do you go about treating the partners of your firm like clients? By using the same techniques you would use with an external client. Don’t just accept assignments; be enthusiastic about working on their matters. Try not to say no unless you’re genuinely at or above your limit. Any client wants to know that you prioritize them and appreciate their business.

Keep in touch with the supervising attorney, and let them know where you are with their matter. Doing this keeps you visible, keeps them up to date, and reassures them of your commitment.

Make their job easier. Senior lawyers need you to handle the work they don’t have time (or inclination) to do. Do it, and go the extra mile where you can.

Don’t promise the moon if you haven’t got a spaceship. Manage your internal client’s expectations so that they aren’t disappointed. Resist the urge to be unrealistic.

And, of course, do outstanding work. The more excellent work you produce, the more work and exposure you’ll get.

Julia Forbess sums up her experience with internal client development: “My career was enhanced by developing strong working relationships with senior associates when I was a junior associate. As those senior associates became part of the partnership, they took an interest in my development, and I had the opportunity to work with their clients. Similarly, as associates go in-house, they become potential clients for the future. All of these relationships can be incredibly important over time, even though they don’t originate out of traditional business development opportunities.”

For more career success stories, check out the “How I Made It” Q&A series on Law.com.  

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