Your Voice

Top tips for lawyers to stay in control of their business development

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Katy Goshtasbi

Katy Goshtasbi.

When I was practicing as a securities lawyer in Washington D.C., I can’t say I did a very deliberate job with my business development. Luckily for me, my natural strength and inclination was in business development and marketing. That’s why things worked out for me all those years when I practiced. But If I only knew then what I know now.

Since then, I have met and consulted with several shiny and bright stars who operate as effective, outstanding lawyers and deliberately are in control of their business development initiatives, too. Although, they are not unicorns anymore per se, they are still more rare than they should be. What are they doing well?

Own It

When I stopped practicing law, I started looking around and noticed the successful lawyers had one thing in common. They were self-confident and not afraid to let others know it. Being curious, I started to do research to find out why.

Here’s what I learned through my formal research:

There is a direct, inverse correlation between our stress and our self-confidence as humans. As our stress goes up—as it does for even the most self-confident person—our self-confidence directly and proportionally drops. Stress is an inevitable reality as a lawyer; we can’t avoid it. It comes from everywhere: deadlines, family pressures, billables, etc. Believe me, I have sat in your shoes, and I get the pressures that you are under.

When your stress goes up and your confidence drops, your brand value diminishes accordingly. What that really means is that you are no longer emotionally resonating with your audience anymore. Put succinctly: No one is buying you anymore. This principle applies to you as a human, whether you want to get more business or get a date.

What’s the cure? Those who know me know I walk around all the time asking clients and colleagues: Are you “owning it?” Meaning are you watching with self-awareness your self-confidence and your stress level?

The easiest way to tackle “owning it” is to be self-aware of your stress level. Most of us have unfortunately developed a really high baseline for stress in our lives. We don’t even know we’re stressed anymore because it just feels natural to be walking around with our hair on fire and with a knot in our stomachs.

I have been quoted for saying we are “over-texted, over-tweeted and over-caffeinated,” to say the least. As soon as you manage to lower your stress level, your self-confidence will go up proportionally, according to my research. You will then be “owning it,” and we will all know it.

It will then be well worth it for you to show up and tell us how great you are as a lawyer and why we should all hire and refer you out. If you are worried about being boastful and bragging or how to message your brand value, those are two great questions that deserve their own write-up in another column.

For now, what does this mean for you? Stop and consider:

• How are you perceived by others, and is it an effective brand for you?

• How stressed are you during the day? Are you even self-aware? How can you fix anything if you don’t know what to fix? To get more self-aware, let your body be your guide. Where do you carry your stress in your body? (I clench my jaw and have pain in my upper shoulders and neck when I’m stressed.) Maybe your stomach bothers you? If you can stop and listen to your body, you’ll be way ahead. Your body can serve as your guide to know when you are stressed.

• What’s one easy tool you can use, in that stressed-out moment, to destress and show up with more self-confidence? The biggest tool I put in my clients’ toolbox is to take three deep breaths. This process will help you compose yourself and gain focus and clarity. No one wants to work with someone who is out of control and seems scattered.

Ignore It

The surest way to waste time and energy is by focusing on what others in your practice area are doing. Top-notch lawyers don’t spend time and energy on what others are doing. They choose to focus on what they can do better to grow their own practice and careers.

I appreciate that there are other lawyers doing what you do. To look at them as your competition only serves to increase your stress and, thus, reduce your self-confidence. If you truly know what is unique and special about yourself, then no one is your competition—everyone is complementary to you. That’s a brand that’s low stress. That’s a brand that is attractive and self-confident.

What does this mean for you? Stop and consider:

• What are your natural talents and strengths?

• How do these talents and strengths lend themselves to your unique selling proposition and how special you are?

• How can you use these focus points as a way to reframe the concept of competition for yourself?

Enjoy It

In the marketing world, we all understand the fundamental notion that you must emotionally resonate with your audience. The only way to emotionally resonate with your audience is to elevate their emotional tone. There is only one emotion that sells anyone or anything, including legal services and lawyers. That emotion is happiness.

Successful lawyers bring a level of happiness to their business development efforts because they know it matters. Successful lawyers recognize that business does not have to be painful and so serious that it increases our stress to our detriment.

While a large part of your promise to your clients is how well you do your substantive work, another equally important part is how they feel around you. If I’m going to pay several hundred dollars per hour, I would rather pay it to a lawyer who not only is competent but whom I enjoy and prefer to be around because they elevate my mood.

Even if clients don’t consciously get this principle, subconsciously this is how we all operate and make decisions on a daily basis. No one buys from logic. We buy to express our values based on how we feel. We justify our purchase through logic afterward.

I had the pleasure of consulting with a law firm where I saw this principle in action. The head of this international firm’s litigation practice group, let’s call him “Joe,” had an amazing ritual of walking around daily to his litigators’ offices and asking them whether they are happy.

While this befuddled the other lawyers, they couldn’t help but take notice of Joe. Not only did Joe ask this question and mean it, Joe lived it. Not only was Joe very competent as a litigator, Joe showed up happy daily. The proof was in the production. Joe was generating an impressively and amazingly high six-figure dollar amount of work for the firm. It’s no coincidence that Joe is now chairman of the entire firm globally.

What does this mean for you? Stop and consider:

• How happy do you show up around your work and life?

• Do you approach your life and business development as fun or as a chore?

• What is one small step you can take in reframing your career, life and business development as more fun? Maybe you can find a hobby, even if you can only devote an hour per month to it? Maybe you can look to other lawyers as sounding boards to compare notes on how they keep their mood elevated?

I’m hoping something I wrote here made you very uncomfortable—a little or a lot. I always say growth (personally and professionally) only comes through transformational change that leaves us altered and evolved—like we just can’t go back to our old ways. Transformational change is only possible if we get uncomfortable and are brave enough to sit in that discomfort until we grow and adapt.

Katy Goshtasbi is a change and branding expert focused on aligning lawyer and law firm brands during times of transformational change to increase productivity and revenues. She practiced securities law for 14 years and was a lawyer at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Goshtasbi is the immediate past chair of the ABA’s Law Practice Division. is accepting queries for original, thoughtful, nonpromotional articles and commentary by unpaid contributors to run in the Your Voice section. Details and submission guidelines are posted at “Your Submissions, Your Voice.”

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