The Importance of Business Development Training for Your Firm’s Associates

As the middle of summer, and each state’s annual bar exam approaches, now is the time to begin thinking about the on-boarding and training process for your firm’s new associates that make up the Class of 2020.

At this point, fresh-out-of-law-school associates should be diligently studying to pass the bar. Once they take the exam and begin the long wait for results, what are your plans for preparing them for what lies ahead?

Consider the Training You Already Have

Does your firm have a clearly mapped out on-boarding playbook that has worked in the past? Or do the new team members shadow seasoned lawyers to get tried-and-true “on the job” training?

In reality, you probably utilize a new associate on-boarding process that that lies somewhere in between these two options. There are a few key areas of training that immediately come to mind when thinking about training new lawyers in a law firm: learning how to use technology solutions (i.e. matter management and practice management software), learning the process for properly billing their hours, and understanding how to perform basic legal processes in the real world (i.e. drafting motions, responding to discovery requests, fulfilling performance expectations, etc.)

All of these areas are essential for any new lawyer’s success, but as you’ll see in the next section, business development is also crucial.

The Importance of Business Development

Most law firms do not include business development training in an associate’s first year or two in the legal field, if ever. The reasoning is understandable. These associates are drinking from the proverbial “fire hose” of information. They are overwhelmed with new demands that were never part of their law school curriculum.

Furthermore, with new attorneys being at least a few years away from “Rainmaker” status, partners and other seasoned lawyers often think it is a waste of time to teach them about bringing in new clients right away. My question, however, is, “If not now, when?”

As we all know, once these associates’ careers get off the ground, they probably will not have true “free time” for 30 years or so. Between the demands of meeting client expectations and maintaining the firm’s billable hour requirement, it is next-to-impossible to carve out time to learn the ins-and-outs of effective business development.

Why You Should Add Business Development to New Associate On-boarding

An ever-increasing number of small and medium sized law firms are including business development training early in new legal associates’ on-boarding plans.

Here’s why:

At the heart of business development is doing great work. If an attorney does not do excellent work, attracting and keeping clients is going to be very difficult. Instilling this in new law school graduates is key to encouraging them to do the high-quality work your firm, and their clients, need from them.

Including these young lawyers in the business development process adds more meaning to their early years with the firm. Associates who feel like they are contributing to the growth of the firm are more invested in their work and far more likely to stay. Additionally, this early involvement is an excellent way give the new associate a more complete vision of the business of law.

Another reason law firms should involve associates in the business development process early is that it will help them build a solid client base and referral network now. The firm is already paying these young attorneys, so it makes sense to maximize their potential value to the firm sooner rather than later.

Additionally, as new attorneys become comfortable as productive members of your team, they can begin to think about what specialty they would like their future practice to focus on. Establishing this idea early in their careers allows young legal professionals to begin building brands as thought leaders through writing, speaking, and networking

When it comes time to identify and recruit future law school graduates, your associates will be enthusiastic about their work lives. They will let potential associates know that your firm cares about developing them as attorneys, not just about how many billable hours they log each week. This is a unique message that most other legal firms will not communicate, so it is likely to give you a leg-up when it comes to recruiting the best and brightest new lawyers each year.

Final Thoughts

In the business of law, as in any other business, your team members are your most valuable asset, and investing in talent is vital to sustainable growth and success. Exposing your associates to all aspects of running a successful law practice early in their career can result in long-term rewards for all.

Remember the old joke:

CFO: What if we invest all this time, effort, and money into training these people and they leave?

CEO: What if we don’t and they stay?

If you would like more information about how your firm can benefit from the ideas discussed in this article, please feel free to contact us at or (800-863-5272).