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Business Development
3 minute read | 9 years ago

Design a Successful Business Development Training Program: Part 3

Photo of Kevin McMurdo By: Kevin McMurdo

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Interpersonal Skills: The Foundation for Strong Relationships

In this multi-part series, we explore the basics of creating an integrated business development training curriculum. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here. 

Developing a successful client relationship often requires lawyers to pass what we will refer to as the “chemistry test,” a visceral combination of requirements, unique to each of us, that helps us assess and ultimately select an attorney.

Whether it’s through a phone call, a written proposal or an in-person presentation, the “chemistry test” might include such questions as:

  • Does this attorney know his/her stuff?
  • Will my boss think I’m smart for hiring him/her?
  • Does this attorney have the right experience?
  • Does this attorney have the correct demeanor?
  • Does this attorney look the part?
  • Is this attorney competent?

Interpersonal skills training should focus on five components: 1. Communication preferences/styles, 2. Listening techniques, 3. Presentations training, 4. Networking, and 5. Sales and proposals skills.

1. Communication Preferences/Styles

Identifying communication preferences/styles is fundamental to interpersonal skills training. Ask participants to take a pretest to understand their own communication preferences. There are numerous communication inventories available, including the DiSC personality test, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I-Speak Your Language inventory and many others.

Creating awareness of their own communication preferences helps lawyers better observe—and respond to—the preferences of different clients and prospects and is the first step to building broader interpersonal skills.

 2. Listening Techniques

While all skills are important, listening is the most important interpersonal skill for professionals. Many studies have demonstrated that the meaning of a face-to-face message is received predominately from non-verbal cues (@55%), followed by facial expression and vocal tone (@35%). Less than 10% of a verbal message is reflected in the words themselves. 

Listening training for business development purposes focuses on the value of open-ended questions. (This can sometimes be challenging for litigators who are more comfortable using close-ended questions in depositions and in court). Attorneys learn active listening techniques designed to uncover active, future and latent needs.    

One of the most effective listening skills training exercises consists of three lawyers interviewing each other about their own practices. One lawyer acts as interviewer, one is the interviewee and one serves as the observer. The observer tracks the interview progress, observing body language, tone and other communication cues. Rotate responsibilities so all three participate in all three roles.  

3. Presentation Skills

All attorneys benefit from presentation skills training. In the business development context, this training often focuses on in-person proposals, or “beauty contests,” for new work. In addition, practice group chairs, office leaders and other firm leaders are often called upon to facilitate group discussions—an important and often overlooked presentation skill.

4. Networking Best Practices

There are many ways to train lawyers in effective networking. Group “speed dating” exercises at firm retreats, for example, can be both fun and rewarding, particularly at larger firms, firms that have recently combined with other firms and firms with a large influx of laterals. Training should focus on the fundamentals of networking, such as introductions, questioning strategies and gracious ways to disengage from a conversation.

5. Sales Skills

Sales skills training is often most effective when offered to a select audience. Those with the capability, aptitude and desire to sell are the best candidates for this training. Topics include advanced interpersonal skills and closing strategies.

Interpersonal skills training helps your attorneys succeed in not only in business development but in many situations. One final note: Lawyers respond best to training that is interactive and scenario-based, allowing partners and associates to “teach each other” within the comfort and culture of their firm.  

In two weeks, we will discuss market reputation and training strategies to help lawyers identify and build a practice niche.

For questions or to learn how McMurdo Consulting and Wicker Park Group might help your firm create a one-size-fits-one integrated business development training strategy, contact Kevin at or 206.849.5358.