Returning to Private Practice: How Lawyers Can Build Relationships within their Firm to Advance Business Development Goals

In recent years, lawyers have increasingly returned to private practice after working as in-house counsel or with a government agency. As pointed out in this article on, the trend can benefit both experienced attorneys and the law firms hiring them. For experienced attorneys, returning to private practice can provide new challenges and opportunities. For law firms, hiring an attorney with prior experience at a government agency or in a corporate legal department can bring in relevant and necessary business or agency expertise in addition to their legal knowledge. 

The transition is not without its challenges, however. For many, once the initial excitement wears off, they are quickly confronted with the reality of filling their billable time and their business generation goals. Accomplishing both happens best with a plan focused on two strategic fronts. In this article, we’ll explain how you can build collaborative relationships with your fellow partners to rebuild a book of business. In part two of this series, we’ll discuss how you can find authentic and valuable ways to communicate your career move with your network. 

How Attorneys Returning to Private Practice Can Engage with New Partners to Advance Business Development Goals 

As an experienced attorney returning to private practice, you have valuable knowledge, experience, and expertise. When returning to a law firm from a government agency or a corporate legal department, you bring unique, firsthand business or regulatory expertise that other partners in the firm might not have. You can raise awareness of your expertise internally by pursuing targeted introductions to fellow partners. The most productive internal conversations are those that include the following two components: 

Focus on the other person first.  

When engaging with fellow partners, first put attention on learning about a colleague’s practice by ascertaining what types of clients and contacts are ideal fits for the partner. Listen for a partner’s priorities and goals for their own practice and identify ways to help them accomplish them. Listen for or suggest options for collaborative efforts. For example, are there opportunities to co-develop a CLE or co-host a targeted event that helps you both introduce clients to one another?  

Make it easier for partners by creating clear and authentic reasons for introductions.

When conversing with fellow partners, there will naturally be an opportunity to share what you do and for whom you might be a good fit. Make it easy for your partner by sharing four items when you get to this point in the conversation: 

  1. The issues my expertise and experience help address. Rather than describing your experience, articulate a specific problem or opportunity you can help resolve that is relevant to clients now. For example, instead of saying, “I’ve spent the last eight years at the SEC,” you might say, “because I’ve spent the last eight years at the SEC, I’m well positioned to help clients anticipate how the SEC will evaluate compliance efforts and I can help them ascertain whether their compliance programs are following best practices.” 

  1. The ideal stakeholders who likely to need my help. Be prepared to articulate the best fit or ideal companies or organizations (e.g., specific industries, geographies, size of organizations, etc.) that will most likely have the issues you can help with. Also, be ready to communicate who within those organizations are the typical stakeholders or decision-makers for your issues (i.e., consider the title or areas of responsibility your decision-makers likely hold). 

  1. The questions a partner might ask to uncover or trigger a potential need. Provide a specific question or series of questions that a partner might ask if they have a client or contact that fits the description of an ideal client. Having a ready set of sample discovery questions makes it easier for a colleague to prompt an issue without “being the expert.”  

  1. A key message and “a gift”. Finally, be ready to articulate any credentials or helpful sound bites a partner could share with a client or contact to reinforce you as a credible expert. By defining the key messages, you once again make it easy for a partner to share information. You can take it one step further by suggesting a gift you can provide to an interested client that helps create an authentic opportunity to introduce you. For example, if you are willing to share insights with a client on compliance best practices or conduct a complimentary audit of their existing training protocols and policies, those gifts are easy ways for clients to feel they are receiving value while you demonstrate knowledge, expertise, and character.  

In addition to building collaborative relationships within the law firm, you can find authentic and valuable ways to connect with your external network as you share news of your career move and work to rebuild a book of business. Read more about how to do so in part two of this series