It’s SPOoOooOooKY Halloween this weekend (can anyone tell me which podcast that’s from?) and so I’m bringing you a post on the five most frightful business development mistakes lawyers make (and how to avoid them!).

I love Halloween, so bear with me on this.

Frightful BD Mistake One
Failing to set specific, measurable goals

Business development seems like one of those things that should be successful because you do it, right? Unfortunately, that ends up being like throwing jello at the wall and hoping that it sticks – some of it will, but most of it ends up on the floor in a big mess.

To be successful in business development, you need specific, measurable goals. Why does it matter if they’re specific and measurable? Because that will inform the plan you create as well as the strategies and tasks that you put into place to become successful. The more specific you are, the easier it is to identify your next steps.

Let’s use Halloween as an example – a goal may be to “have the best Halloween ever.” It’s a goal, but it’s not specific or measurable. What is “the best”? That’s too subjective to decide.

Something that is more specific and measurable is to “Spend each weekend in October doing a fall or Halloween-themed activity, culminating in throwing a small (under 25 people) costume party.” Your goal is specific in that you want to do Halloween or fall-themed activities, and it’s measurable because you have both a timeframe (each weekend in October and Halloween night) as well as a certain number of people (25) and activities (five weekends in October, plus the party).

Now instead, Halloween is your business development efforts – what is your specific and measurable goal?

Frightful BD Mistake Two
Failing to plan

You know what they always say – “failing to plan is planning to fail.”

Now imagine a creepy butler at a haunted mansion saying it, because this is a Halloween-themed post. You’re welcome.

In all seriousness though, that is frightful BD mistake two. It’s not enough to have a specific, measurable goal. You must also have a plan. In keeping with our Halloween theme, let’s say you set out in September with all of the best intentions to have an October full of activities and a party, but, as always happens, things get busy, plans get made, and you never get around to that hayride you wanted to do or the apple picking you promised yourself. Ah, the best-laid plans.

Or rather, the best-laid intentions.

This is why a plan is necessary.

If instead, you sat down one weekend in September and made a list of all of the activities that you wanted to do in October, looked through the calendar of upcoming options that were available, and created a schedule of events for the following month, you would have been much better prepared. You could have chosen a date for your Halloween party, made a list of people to invite and sent out save the dates, checked over existing decorations and shopped for anything you needed in advance, prepped the menu and cocktails, and planned for when you would decorate. You could have planned your costume and put all of the pieces together. Well in advance, you’d be ready for that evening, when guests would arrive and you’d welcome them in costume, with your home prepared, decorated, and welcoming (or foreboding, as the case may be).

The likelihood that you’d succeed in your goal of spending each weekend doing a Halloween or fall-themed activity and hosting a Halloween party would be fairly high, because you would have a solid plan in place with calendared items considered well in advance.

So again, your Halloween plans are now your BD plans – how do you create a plan for business development to achieve success?

Frightful BD Mistake Three
Leaving it to the end of the year or a downtime

A plan is only as good as its execution. If you put together the plan, but then put it away, it won’t work.

Back to our Halloween party – let’s say you made all of your lists for what you needed to do for your Halloween party in September. You knew what food you would need, the decorations that you’d pick up, the costume that you wanted, the drinks that you’d have, and which guests to invite. But after making the lists, you put them to the side and were distracted by something else, and before you knew it, it was the week of Halloween.

You sent out the invitations by email, but most of your friends already have plans.

You start to decorate with what you have but realize the decorations you needed have already been replaced in the stores with Christmas trees. It’s too late to order anything online that will get to you in time.

The perfect Halloween costume is sold out and none of the stores have your size, so you end up with a costume that you’re not as excited about.

You’re up exceptionally late the night before prepping food and picking up candy and cocktails, but only five guests show up, so it’s not exactly what you hoped for.

You can have the best plan, but unless you calendar in the steps and execute them in a timely way, you’re going to feel rushed, and/or your relationships are going to feel neglected. Any business development plan is designed to be a working document that you constantly revise and rework as you learn what works best for you. So don’t dash off a couple of goals and ideas in early January only to shelve it until November 15th when you think you can cram in 12 months of BD into the last six weeks of the year.

Frightful BD Mistake Four
Picking activities you hate to do

We all have to get out of our comfort zones sometimes, but that doesn’t mean that we have to be doing business development activities that we hate.

Are you allergic to hay? Don’t go on hayrides. Are you afraid of ghosts? The haunted mansion is NOT for you. Do tiny ghosts and goblins give you the heebie-jeebies? Avoid trick or treating! Do masks give you a fright? Wear a wig instead.

There are as many ways to celebrate Halloween as there are people. Just as there are as many ways to develop business as there are people. If you hate public speaking, don’t volunteer to keynote that industry event. If writing isn’t your forte, don’t force yourself to be a blogger. If you have a voice for writing, podcasting may not be for you. If you’re painfully shy around new people, big networking events are not your style.

When you force yourself to do BD activities that you hate, it’s no wonder that you’re constantly skipping them when they come up on your plan or calendar. Instead, choose the things you enjoy. Work with your marketing department, BD professional, or an outside consultant to find the things you do enjoy (if you’re not sure what they are) or test out some new things if you’re still searching and finding new clients or getting work from existing clients will become MUCH more enjoyable.

Frightful BD Mistake Five
Relying solely on word of mouth

I can’t count on my witchy fingers the number of times a lawyer has told me that they rely on word of mouth for their business development.


Yes, we’re in the relationship business. Yes, reputation is essential. Yes, there are certain practice areas for which word of mouth is essential and even a primary way of developing business.

However, it’s not the only way for you to develop business.

Why do I say you shouldn’t rely on this?

Because if your clients are having conversations about you, you should know what they’re saying. And that means you’d better be an expert at managing your relationships. Are you (and preferably someone else in your firm) regularly sitting down with your clients to understand why they’re happy with you and your firm’s work? Do you know why they recommend you and more importantly, why they wouldn’t? What is the work that you aren’t doing for them? Do you know what it is and are you comfortable with the reasons you aren’t doing it? Managing your existing client is as important to business development as meeting new clients (if not more important).

Would you host your Halloween party by inviting your best friend and then simply hope that that person invited everyone else that you wanted to show up? No. You’d specifically invite the people that you wanted to be there. And if you wanted your best friend to invite other people on your behalf, you’d speak to them about who you’d like them to invite and why. Do the same with your clients!

Halloween can be a frightfully scary time for making BD mistakes, but with a little care and attention, you too can be spooky successful. Have a SPOOOoooOOOoooky Halloween everyone!

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Photo of Lindsay Griffiths Lindsay Griffiths

Lindsay Griffiths is the International Lawyers Network’s Executive Director. She is a dynamic, influential international executive and marketing thought leader with a passion for relationship development and authoring impactful content. Griffiths is a driven, strategic leader who implements creative initiatives to achieve the…

Lindsay Griffiths is the International Lawyers Network’s Executive Director. She is a dynamic, influential international executive and marketing thought leader with a passion for relationship development and authoring impactful content. Griffiths is a driven, strategic leader who implements creative initiatives to achieve the goals of a global professional services network. She manages all major aspects of the Network, including recruitment, member retention, and providing exceptional client service to an international membership base.

In her role as Executive Director, Griffiths manages a mix of international programs, engages a diverse global community, and develops an international membership base. She leads the development and successful implementation of major organizational initiatives, manages interpersonal relationships, and possesses executive presence with audiences of internal and external stakeholders. Griffiths excels at project management, organization, and planning, writes and speaks with influence and authority, and works independently while demonstrating flexibility in thinking, especially in challenging situations. She also adapts to diverse and dynamic environments with constant assessment and recalibration.

JD Supra Readers Choice Top Author 2019

In 2021, the ILN was honored as Global Law Firm Network of the Year by The Lawyer European Awards, and in 2016, 2017, and 2022, they were shortlisted as Global Law Firm Network of the Year. Since 2011, the Network has been listed as a Chambers & Partners Leading Law Firm Network, recently increasing this ranking to be included in the top two percent of law firm networks globally, as well as adding two regional rankings. She was awarded “Thought Leader of the Year” by the Legal Marketing Association’s New York chapter in 2014 for her substantive contributions to the industry and was included in Clio’s list of “34 People in Legal You Should Follow on Twitter.” She was also chosen for the American Bar Association Journal’s inaugural Web 100‘s Best Law Blogs, where judge Ivy Grey said “This blog is outstanding, thoughtful, and useful.” Ms. Griffiths was chosen as a Top Author by JD Supra in their 2019 Readers’ Choice Awards, for the level of engagement and visibility she attained with readers on the topic of marketing & business development. She has been the author of Zen & the Art of Legal Networking since February 2009.