Crazy Times. Is it Time to Recession-Proof Your Law Practice?

Originally Posted on the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin

In 2008 my phone started ringing off the hook. Attorneys from all over Chicagoland were panicking due to reduced billable hours, lost jobs and the uncertainties of the worst recession in our lifetimes. So, here we are ten years later and I’m feeling like Bill Murray from the movie Groundhog Day, watching history repeat itself all over again. I’m observing attorneys daily who continue to believe that business will continue as it is, doing little or nothing to recession-proof their job or existing law practice.

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Step number one, take stock of what you have. Really have!

It’s February 2019, do you know your numbers? Ask yourself the following questions to see how you stack up for a recession:

  1. What were your originations in 2018?
  2. What percentage of your work is for your own clients versus your partners?
  3. What do you have in the pipeline for new business in 2019?

If you read these questions and said, “oh S*#%!” it’s because you are not in a good place for sustainability in a recession. I hope you know by now that job security is based on your value to the business (yes, your law firm is a business). A lack of originations, your own clients or a full pipeline will put you at serious risk. If clients leave the firm or reduce their legal spend, what are you really able to bill? To get yourself motivated to change and improve for the year, take stock of what you have. The greatest rainmakers are the ones who are motivated. Ask yourself what would motivate you to put yourself out there to grow your book. Is it money, security for your family or having a portable book? Nothing gets done without motivation and a commitment to change.

Step number two, going after low-hanging fruit.

As a lawyer coach, I understand better than anyone the time pressures attorneys face every day. Between billable hours, family time and sleeping, it’s really amazing you’ve made it this far. That being said, if originations must become a part of your life, let’s focus on the easiest stuff first. By easy, I don’t mean that it’s easy to get, but rather, some business development activity will show faster results than others.  Here’s my ranking of business opportunities from easiest to hardest.

Easy to hard:

  • Getting more business from your existing clients.
  • Cross-marketing your clients with additional services.
  • Obtaining quality introductions from your existing clients.
  • Leveraging your strongest relationships for direct business or quality introductions.
  • Developing strategic partnerships with good referral sources
  • Attending conferences where prospective clients and referral sources are.
  • Local networking to meet new referral sources

Based on your experience doing business development and how large your network has become, you may be able to work the top of the list, while others may have to begin from the bottom. Whatever the case, it’s mission critical to do something to move the needle. You can get many of the answers to “How to get started” by reading my blog at

Step number three, get educated and fast!

While this might sound like a shameless plug to hire me as your coach, I promise it’s not. Just do something to learn business development and marketing to ensure you aren’t stagnant in your law practice. Here are three things you can do to learn these skills today!

  1. Tap a more experienced business developer on the shoulder and ask for advice. While some of the more senior people may not know how to get it done in today’s environment (no offence meant here), this could be an easy way to get on the right track.
  2. Read, watch and listen. There are articles, books, blogs, videos and podcasts that are directly talking to you. Get on the Google train and start researching content to learn business development. Set a goal for yourself to read, watch and listen to one-to-two hours of content a week (yes, a week), in order to improve your effectiveness when doing business development.
  3. Research and hire a coach today. Again, doesn’t have to be me, just someone who understands legal and has a track record of success. This may be tough to find, but it’s worth the investment of time, money (your own) and energy to build a book that allows you to control your own destiny.

I know you didn’t get into law to become a “salesperson” and you don’t have to. However, learning how to market your practice is currently the best way to ensure longevity in one’s law practice.

Step number four, make a list.

In step number two I shared a variety of ways to drive new business. One of the most important actions you can execute to ensure success is in creating an A, B and C list of your contacts. Statistically, we all have between 250 and 500 people that we know. It’s of critical importance to scrub your Outlook, Gmail or LinkedIn connections to determine who is at the top or bottom of that list as it relates to direct business, or connectivity to direct business. It also might help to clearly define what makes up an A, B or C relationship.  For example, if your close friend is the GC of a large pharma company, she might be an “A.” Or if you have a cousin who is in the IT security space and works with mid-market software companies, he might be a “B.” Okay, here’s one to make a point. Your hair dresser who does nothing but talk about how cheap people are, might be a “C” or even a “D!”

By taking an hour to pull up, review and define your list, you will now have some direction of who to call/email and why. Then commit Monday mornings to email or call two-to-five of these folks to schedule coffees, lunches or drinks to get your biz dev activity up.

Step number five, putting this all together.

Listen, I know what I’m suggesting is hard, uncomfortable and not what you signed up for, but it is the current reality of things. One of the philosophies that I engage in with my own business and that of my attorney clients is something I call the three P’s of success. My three P’s could relate to an Olympic athlete, a top chef or a concert musician. It answers the question, “How do I become really good at something?” If you’ve ever excelled at something yourself, chances are you used my three P’s without calling it that.


It is very difficult to be successful by merely “winging it.” Having a plan that provides strategies and tactics to accomplish goals is mandatory for success in any endeavor one pursues. Business development is no different.


How about going into court without any idea what you’re doing? Or creating a complex meal without a recipe? Not a good idea. It is super critical to learn processes for time management, networking and bringing in new business.


Here’s where the rubber meets the road. You can plan and process all day, but never get better or make things easier. Learning from mistakes has always been the cornerstone of growth and success. When engaging in business development, be sure to track your activity to easily identify your gaps and mistakes. You can then work to fix them and improve as you go. I once asked a salesperson, “how many years of experience she had in sales.” She replied “ten.” After evaluating her further, it was clear that she really had one year of experience ten times.

As you read this article, I implore you to schedule time to begin thinking about and executing on your book of business. While you might be a young associate at a big firm or a solo grinding it out on the street, there’s no better time to recession proof your business. And make no mistake, it’s really “YOU, Inc.” Even under the cover of a law firm’s name. Having your own book of business is the only real job security that exists.