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‘Young Men Are Easily Deceived, For They Are Quick To Hope': The Slow Process Of Developing Business

I took the title of this column from Aristotle: “Young men are easily deceived, for they are quick to hope.

But I’m really thinking about business development and, as I often do in my navel-gazing columns, simply using myself as a case study.

I graduated from law school in 1983 and published my first article (in California Lawyer) in 1986. (I’d provide a link to the article, but I’m afraid the internet didn’t exist way back when. The article was a thriller, though; trust me: “Reviewing the Unreviewable: Obtaining Appellate Review of Federal Trial Court Remand Orders.”)

Because I was a young man, I was quick to hope: I’d published an article! My phone would naturally start ringing off the hook within the next few weeks! I’d be deploying my novel thesis in cases left and right, and the partners at my firm would be dumbstruck by my ability to develop business! Life of Riley, here I come!

Because I was quick to hope, I was easily deceived: Publishing one short article — even an article with a pretty decent thesis in a journal with a fairly large circulation — does not generate new business.

So I expanded my analysis and published the long-form of my article in the Arizona State Law Journal in 1987.

Because I was still a young man, I was still quick to hope. . . .

And because I was quick to hope, I was easily deceived: Publishing one scholarly article — even an article with an original thesis in a reasonably well-respected journal — does not generate new business.

(Remarkably, I did get a call in 1988 from a lawyer who had read the Arizona State piece and needed my help. This means that, over the course of 25 years in private practice, I’m able to trace precisely one piece of business directly to an article that I wrote.)

Over the course of the decades, I continued to write, and speak, and, later, blog to develop business. And I realized only gradually over time (because I’m a slow learner) that no one event causes the phone to ring, and no one publication changes your life.

By the time I’d reached middle age, I was older (if not wiser) and surely would no longer be quick to hope. Then, early in the new millennium, I wrote a book! Short articles don’t generate business, and long articles don’t generate business, but surely a book — especially one in a critically important, but long overlooked area of law — would do the trick! At last, I’d solved the riddle (and done the mind-numbing spadework) needed to generate fame and fortune!

I’m still waiting.

I cannot trace a single piece of business to that book.

The years passed; I grew older and more decrepit. But when 2008 rolled around, none other than The Wall Street Journal solicited me to write an article. When that ditty appeared in print, I knew I had it made! How many lawyers land bylined articles in the Journal? And the article was about a subject right down my power alley and in an area in which I’d been trying to generate business. At long last, after all those decades of slogging away, a piece in the Journal would surely do the trick!

I got a couple of emails from old college buddies telling me that they’d seen my name in print.

Otherwise, nada.

This is not to say that I was an abject failure at generating business. As I’ve explained before, my concentrated efforts at speaking and writing in one particular field generated a fairly substantial practice for my firm. But that was not the result of having published a single article that was the magic bullet. To the contrary: So far as I can tell, no one article will cause the phone to ring. (Well, maybe a truly brilliant article with an earth-shaking thesis would do the trick; please let me know if you ever manage to write one of those puppies.)

Rather, developing business required writing many articles, and giving many speeches, and making many contacts in one field over the course of years. Even then, there are no guarantees; to my eye, luck plays a frighteningly large role in determining whether business falls your way. I can imagine a world in which I would have worked precisely as hard at developing a practice and nothing would have come of it (except, perhaps, an ulcer and an abiding sense of frustration).

What prompted this navel-gazing column?

As I recently reported, I’ve now published a bylined article in The New York Times. Ha! Bylined pieces in both the Times and the Journal! How many lawyers can brag of having reached that milestone? Am I a stud, or what? Surely now, at long last, the world will perceive my talent and beat a path to my door!

Or maybe I’m now an old man, less quick to hope and prone to deceit. What, after all, could come of my recent article that would change my life?

I’m content in my job (and loving life in London). I’ve gone in-house, so I’m no longer trolling for business. I’ve got the world’s two greatest kids. There’s nothing that I need that I don’t have. There’s almost nothing that I want that I don’t have. (Think about those last two sentences; they’re really quite remarkable.) I’ve been happily married for nearly 30 years, and I’m still upright, doing my three-mile lap around Regent’s Park every morning.

What could my newest article — in the Times! — actually do for me?

Here’s hoping.

Mark Herrmann is the Chief Counsel – Litigation and Global Chief Compliance Officer at Aon, the world’s leading provider of risk management services, insurance and reinsurance brokerage, and human capital and management consulting. He is the author of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law and Inside Straight: Advice About Lawyering, In-House And Out, That Only The Internet Could Provide (affiliate links). You can reach him by email at

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