Practice Development Counsel

Phyllis weiss haserot
Phyllis weiss haserot

President & Founder

212 593-1549

Articles: Multi-Generational Solutions Archives

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Sustainable Business Development Success: The Multi-Generational Approach

In any sizable firm, successful sustainable business development is not reserved for the lone rainmaker or even a lone generation. Client relationships are too valuable to be based solely on one individual, one level of seniority or one age cohort.

The notion of client teams has been around for two decades. Now we are becoming more intentional about the diversity of teams for both business development and service delivery. And increasingly we recognize the inequity and shortsightedness of using associate labor without their visibility, creative input and credit received.

Without giving meaningful and reputation-building opportunities to the younger generations, the best of those individuals will leave for what they perceive as better opportunities. Without developing multi-level relationships with clients, bonds can be fragile. Long-term client relationships are built on much more than the originator doing good work. That’s just a basic requirement.

None of this is earth-shattering news. However in my over 25 years of consulting to law firms, I have often observed the following – to this day – in many firms:

  • Excessive territoriality – reluctance to share client contact with younger partners doing the heavy lifting on matters behind the scenes
  • Reluctance to introduce associates working on matters to the key client contacts
  • Compensation systems that don’t permit sharing of origination credit
  • Exclusion of younger associates from new business brainstorming and planning meetings
  • Exclusion of younger members of the prospective work team for a new client from beauty contests and other new business meetings with clients. This is not to say that a large number of attorneys always should be attending those meetings. But clients want to know who will work on their matters.

These policies and practices, though understandable from the standpoint of the individual rainmaker, don’t make good sense for the long-term viability of the institution.



In today’s diverse marketplace, a better business case can be made for the multi-generational collaborative approach to business development than the ad hoc or lone ranger approach. It is in the firm’s interest to:

  • Develop and nurture client bonds at all levels for the future
  • Keep young lawyers engaged and encourage an ownership mindset
  • Take advantage of networking and the networked mentality of Gen Y/Millennials
  • Give clients the opportunity to know “the bench” since they hate turnover and want to know who they will be working with
  • Keep Baby Boomers with client relationships involved and positive, even when they are planning to retire


What can we anticipate each generation to bring to the business development table?

Of course, we are talking in generalizations and there certainly are individual differences among the members of any and all generations. Nonetheless there are patterns of attributes, attitudes and behaviors that are important to observe and to capitalize upon the most useful.

Boomers typically have the existing contacts and track record of experience that prepare and qualify them to solve new client problems and manage work processes, flow and staffing requirements. The smaller group of Traditionalists remaining at firms has long-standing, often loyal relationships. However, since their peers are frequently on a glide slope toward an exit if not already gone, their relationship clout has withered.

What is missing that members of the younger generations can very valuably contribute? The older half of the Gen Xers have obtained considerable experience by now and many have attained leadership positions. They are peers of the up and coming leaders and decision-makers on the client side. They are in the position to have a realistic sense of the marketplace. And in contrast with the reputation their generation was saddled with when they first entered the workplace, they have become hard workers (or have left), expecting to be rewarded on the basis of merit. They are more flexible and agile in how they work than older generations, and their greater acceptance of diversity has resulted in more women in leadership or managerial positions. For example we have seen an increase in female managing partners, mostly at the office level. There is still quite a way to go for women to be recognized as leaders, and the positions they hold now are more likely to be administrative than strategic. However, since increasingly women on the client side are occupying decision-making positions that determine legal services purchases, many are pushing for better female representation as partners and client team leaders.

Gen Y/Millennials are typically ambitious and willing to work hard for recognition and the opportunity to move up. They are continual and eager learners and most of them are not yet tied down with family responsibilities, so they have time if they choose to spend it working long hours and cultivating relationships for future business generation. Their technology savvy is well recognized (and perhaps envied by other generations), giving them the potential to be extremely productive. They have a better view of the coming marketplace needs and alternative delivery modes than many of their older colleagues and want to lead change. If given a voice, they will respond positively.

In summary, that is the pool of assets from which to assemble multi-generational business development teams. Firms need to take advantage of the positive attributes and provide training and coaching as necessary to achieve a cohesive team embracing and benefiting from differences.



The first thing to do is acknowledge that the legal market has truly changed and act on that knowledge. Virtual firms have sprung up. A great deal of free legal information is available to legal consumers of all sizes and sophistication. Other types of professionals handle some of the work lawyers considered their domain. That means traditional law firms have been losing their monopoly. Clients want and need teams that are diverse in a variety of ways. Collaboration and effective communication are ever more important – globally, culturally, generationally. So there is a demand for diversity of all types. Firms need to do a better job of embracing differences and not insist on the degree of conformity that was common in the past while still standardizing processes for greater efficiency. The younger generations are generally more comfortable with and demanding of diversity. Their educations and experiences tend to be more global with more facility in multiple languages.

Second, focus everything around developing and nurturing relationships – internally, with clients, with referral sources, including social networks, allies and complementary professionals to partner with. The younger generations seem wired to network, both electronically and in person, so encourage them, building in accountability for the time spent and the long-term results they are seeking.

Know what clients value about their outside advisers. They want problem-solvers who know the client’s business, who anticipate threats and opportunities for them, and who are pleasant to work with. Drill down to the specifics and deliver.



Carrying out the multi-generational strategy for sustainable business development success requires a broad based effort beyond the individual firm. Legal education is lacking in some important areas outside of the traditional legal skills. This fact has been recognized by firms for years, but still there is little emphasis on what I call “human performance skills.” Firms and companies need to pressure law schools to train students on the things that matter as much as traditional legal skills: teamwork, which business students learn; communication; creative thinking and interpretation; relationship building and comfort with ambiguity.

It’s the firm’s responsibility to train and coach attorneys of all generations on communicating and working with clients of different generations. Attorneys need to learn the patterns, perspectives and preferences typical of each generation is order to best interact and meet their expectations. The differences are greater than they used to be, so a one-size approach doesn’t fit all. Give Gen Xers and Yers opportunities to lead and to facilitate team meetings so they are prepared for new roles and have a meaningful part in setting and meeting team and client expectations. Encourage them to cultivate relationships that are likely to bear fruit in the future, and recognize the value of the time expended on relationship building. Otherwise they will only have incentive to bill hours on existing client legal work. Then follow the example of corporate award-winners (including the large accounting firms) to make the success of multi-generational client teams a component of the team leader’s compensation. That’s a clear signal of the importance of highly functional teams.



Of course, business development is not just about attracting new clients. Equally important is client retention and expanding business with existing clients. The latter is often achieved by attorneys other than the original business generator, often attorneys of a younger generation who have been very satisfactorily doing the client’s work over time. They also need to be coached in the techniques and strategies to expand business – not expecting it to automatically happen without taking the initiative to explore with clients possible additional current and future needs. Those skills should be a cooperative effort between senior and more junior attorneys.

Often overlooked, however, until it becomes urgent is succession planning and client transitioning, which is a crucial aspect of client retention. Ideally the succession planning and gradual transitioning should be a five-year process when retirement of the senior client relationship manager can be anticipated. Firms need to put an institutional process in place in order not to lose clients when a transition and succession must occur. Time is necessary to instill trust and confidence in the designated successor and be sure the chemistry is right. The process involves all three parties: the incumbent, the protégé/successor and the client. It needs to be carried out very intentionally, planning with the client or client team for the eventual transfer as seamlessly as possible.



Many firms have invested a lot of money and talk in the surface elements of branding. Most significantly, the essence of a brand is the consistent experience any stakeholder or the public has with the firm and any one of its personnel at all levels. To preserve a positive brand reputation, all generations of the firm must convey that experience. Generational differences need to be embraced and bridged to convey a consistent brand of business development, service delivery and client transitioning from generation to generation.

©  Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2011.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot is the president of business development consulting firm Practice Development Counsel, working with law firms for over 20 years. A special focus is on the profitability of improving inter-generational relations and transitioning planning for baby boomer senior partners ( Phyllis is the author of The Rainmaking Machine and The Marketer’s Handbook of Tips & Checklists (both Thomson Reuters/West 2010). URL: