Whether or not you subscribe to Malcolm Gladwell’s theory that it takes 10,000 hours of work (among other things) to achieve success in a specific field, any lawyer will tell you that business development takes time and sustained effort. With the considerable demands on your time as it is, an organized and goal-oriented approach to business development will increase your probability of success by maximizing the return on the time you invest.

Although business development plans may vary according to your level of experience, type of practice, and other factors, any plan should focus on your contacts, your practice, and activities geared toward enhancing both.

Maximize your contacts

Think about each of your contacts strategically: who are your potential clients and referral sources; who are your repeat and one-off clients; who has referred you business regularly and less frequently; to whom do you or could you refer business (externally and within your firm)? Write down the names of these individuals, your relationships with them, and your history with each. Keep track of these people and their notable cases and transactions, and consider how you might be able to collaborate with them.

Evaluate your business

Examine your existing practice in similar terms: why have clients engaged you for multiple matters; what changed with clients who brought you business in the past but not recently; what clients and potential clients are undergoing internal changes that might create new business opportunities for you; what can you do to make yourself more valuable to your clients and potential clients; and what can you do to cultivate your referral sources? This requires examining your practice and sources of business with a critical eye.

Participate in professional activities

Find different ways you can meet new clients and referral sources, remain in touch with your existing contacts, and develop your credentials, such as through industry and trade association activities; bar association work, meetings, and conferences; writing articles and newsletters; continuing legal education and other training seminars; and philanthropic endeavors. Not all activities will have the same potential upside for every lawyer in every practice area in every city or town, so be practical about what would likely work for you. Be sure to include a budget for these activities in your business development plan so you can allocate your costs appropriately and, if necessary, abandon expensive activities that have a low yield.

Set goals and follow up

Set periodic goals business development goals to keep yourself on track. For example, commit to reconnecting with a certain number of contacts each quarter. Stay attuned to legal developments and news involving or affecting your clients and potential clients, so your e-mails and telephone calls to them are substantive and show that you are informed and proactive. They will appreciate that you are thinking about what is important to them. Set aside an hour or so each week to reflect on your business development plan. Use this time to update it, document steps you have taken to advance your established goals, and decide what new goals you might set.

You may end up spending 10,000 hours on business development over the course of your career; but, however many hours you spend, it is up to you to ensure that precious time is well spent.