"Let's do lunch": An effective business development tool
Books on sales commonly state that, at a certain stage of the process, any business
developer must “ask for the business.” I’m not so sure that this advice holds true for
attorneys. Before I became an attorney coach, I spent 12 years purchasing legal
services as an in-house attorney. I personally didn’t like being asked for the business.
Here’s what I’ve learned.
The client is smarter than you think.
Taking a client to lunch is a time-tested and valuable way to strengthen a
relationship. Most in-house counsel and other business executives accept a lunch
invitation because they want to learn more about an outside attorney and the services
he or she offers. They realize that some part of the ritual includes a “sales” component.
I always understood that the attorney would like to be hired, and did not extend the
lunch invitation just to hear me brag about my three wonderful children and my plans for
the holidays. However, I always felt slightly offended when the attorney ended the meal
with a blatant sales pitch. Please, be more subtle. Give the client a little credit.
It makes a client uncomfortable to say “no.”
It is the client’s job to maintain a roster of qualified outside counsel. That is why he or
she will usually be willing to meet with you over lunch and learn about your
practice. But the client will not always have an immediate need for your services. A
direct “ask for the business” can make a client uncomfortable – because it never feels
good to say “no.” You want to leave the potential client with a positive feeling, not a bad
Then what should we talk about?
At some point, you want to steer the lunch conversation to business. One good
approach is to ask, “What do you like and dislike about the lawyers and law firms that
you currently work with?” This opens the door to talk about your own approach.
“What do you like and dislike about your job?” is another good conversation
starter. Respond to their likes with deeper questions. Respond to their dislikes by
being helpful – offering some solutions and contacts. Remember that networking is not
about handing out your card, it is about finding ways to help others.
Finally, find a way to talk about legal problems (preferably problems similar to those
faced by your guest) and how you love helping your clients solve these
problems. Passion is important. Competent lawyers are common; enthusiastic lawyers
Lunch is an effective business development tool. Use it to share information and build a
relationship. If this is done properly, you can avoid the ethical and social pitfalls
inherent in directly “asking for the business.”