Attorney Coaching: Brick by Brick, a House Is Built

Attorney Coaching: Brick by Brick, a House Is Built

By Risa McMahon
November 10, 2022 | 7-minute read
Business Development Content Type Article
Marketing Management & Leadership
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Listen to the songs mentioned in this article on the Spotify playlist below.

Last year, my article “Pandemic Pivots: BD Strategies in an Age of Virtual Insanity” featured song references to help anchor my business development (BD) tips into your brain. This year, though we still aren’t back to “As It Was” (a nod to the talented Harry Styles and his 2022 hit), I wanted to take you on another BD journey with new musical references to keep you entertained along the way.

If you are an attorney hoping to build a bigger book of business, I hope you will be inspired to implement at least one tip. To my fellow legal marketers, please feel free to share these suggestions with the attorneys you support.

Before we get into specific tactics, let’s look at the big picture. Do you have a strategy to stay focused on distinct business development goals, or do you find yourself reacting to opportunities as they arise, doing a bit of “this and that?” Let me pry a bit deeper: Is your phone ringing off the hook with new matters and you see no point in doing business development? If not, I have a message from your business development plan:

“Don’t You Forget About Me” (Simple Minds, 1985)

I hope I’m not the first to suggest that if you don’t have a business development (BD) plan, you should start there. Even if you are an active business developer who does just fine, you will be exponentially more successful if you have a plan that you update once annually and review a few times a year.

Your BD plan doesn’t have to be Shakespearean to be effective. Get as many marketing and BD-related thoughts onto paper as possible. If you review it once every several months, you will be far more likely to spend your non-billable time with greater intention and reach your goals.

If you don’t already have a plan that you reference regularly, schedule time to spend an hour a year to create one. Create a calendar appointment as a reminder to look at the plan every other month. I’ll lean on Bill Withers to help me explain this concept in the next section.

“Lean on Me” (Bill Withers, 1972)

If I asked you to build a house, you would tell me you don’t have the time. But if you were to lay one brick per week, in a year you’d have a 52-brick wall and would be well on your way toward your goal. Brick by brick, a house is built. Business development works in the same way. 

In my experience, the most effective way to lay these bricks is to lean on your calendar. Schedule a recurring appointment with yourself at the same time every week to do something BD related. Although you may need to occasionally reschedule the calendar appointment, you’ll be more likely to keep it if you set the appointment for a time or day when you tend to have a lighter load — perhaps at 3 p.m. on Fridays or 8 a.m. on Mondays.

“Your Body Is a Wonderland” (John Mayer, 2001)

Within the body of your weekly “BD time” calendar entry, attach your plan and a short list of BD and marketing activities that you want to accomplish. Doing so gives your future self one less motivational obstacle — you will not have to spend time coming up with a plan, you can just choose from a menu of options.

 Business development activities might include:

  • Engaging with a connection on LinkedIn
  • Liking or sharing a piece of recent news from your firm’s LinkedIn page (doing so reminds people where you work and what you do)
  • Calling a client to check in
    • The purpose of a check-in conversation is to meet with your client and let them know there is no agenda or invoice associated with the discussion. Ask how they’re doing, how work is going, what’s keeping them up at night or what’s on the horizon. Then — and this is important — just listen to their response without interruption or thinking about your response. If you call a client just to check in, you’ll learn something personal about them, or maybe even related to work, that you might be able to help them with later. Remember, this is a discussion without an agenda; hard sales during a “just checking in” call will likely be ill received, so do your best to resist the temptation to go into problem-solving mode. Follow up later with some thoughtful ideas.
  • Pick one client or referral source from your plan and ask your legal assistant to send you a list of ideas (in a certain price range) for sending a small care package to express gratefulness for their business.
  • Share an informative article (either a PDF or a link to a site with no paywall) with a short personal note. Include in your calendar appointment draft text for the body of the email that your future self might use as a starting point.
    • Your note might say something like:

Dear [name],
I hope you and your family are well. My colleague [_____] recently authored this article and I thought you might find it interesting. If you have any questions, or just want the five-minute “cliff notes” version, please don’t hesitate to reach out — I’d be happy to connect you with [_____]. We’re here if you need us! Until we speak again, please take care.

“Always Something There to Remind Me” (Naked Eyes, 1983)

Another tip for incorporating BD into your routine is to tie an activity that you’d like to do regularly to a pre-existing habit. For example, if you pump gas once a week, make it a habit to reach out to one of your top 20 contacts to set up a coffee or lunch while your tank is filling. If you find yourself scrolling through Facebook while you wait for your child to get into the car after practice, use that time to instead launch the LinkedIn app on your phone and engage with a few of the people you listed in your BD plan as key connections.

You may find that these “cracks of time” are when you get the most done because there is some time pressure. It is unlikely you’ll have big blocks of open time to focus on BD; instead, you may want to try to work a few key activities into your existing schedule.

“The Final Countdown” (Europe, 1986)

If you are motivated by the beating drum of an approaching deadline, you may want to set up a regular meeting with an accountability partner. Just as you’re more likely to achieve health goals with the help of a personal trainer, engaging a BD coach offers accountability and guidance when you get stuck. If hiring a pro isn’t in the cards, you may find value in buddying-up with another attorney who also wants to be more disciplined about their BD goals. Even if you fall short once in a while, regular meetings with someone else will give you mini deadlines to stick to, and you’ll be much more likely to move the needle over the course of a year.

Any personal trainer will tell you that it would be more effective to exercise for 20 minutes every other day for the entire year than to work out for 60 hours straight in late December. BD efforts work the same way. Consistently taking steps, even small ones, to move toward the goals you laid out in your BD plan will have a powerful cumulative effect. Remember: brick by brick, a house is built.

Risa McMahon
Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale, P.C.

Risa McMahon is the Business Development Director at Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale, P.C., a full service firm, and she supports the firm’s 150+ attorneys out of their downtown Chicago office. She has spent most of her two-decade career helping lawyers make lasting connections with their clients. For a list of McMahon’s top 10 songs to play for motivational purposes, you’ll need to email her at