Should your BD Coaches be Internal Staff or External Consultants?


Having committed your firm to a BD Coaching Programme, to ensure it is a successful one, it is vital that you have the right BD coaches in place. Much like any talented sports team you can think of, if they have the wrong coaching structure behind them, their results will at best be patchy. Which leads to the main question, who should your BD coaches be? Should you rely on your in-house teams, or should you search the market for experienced consultants?

The short answer to this is that any person with the skills, mindset and desire to deliver BD coaching absolutely can be a successful coach and can drive your programme forward. However, one vital extra element that is required is that they have to have the capacity, i.e. the time, to be able to dedicate to it as well.

It is that last part where, initially, internal BD coaching programmes fall down. That’s not because the appetite of internal staff to undertake coaching isn’t there, it’s simply because most law firms don’t run teams that aren’t running at somewhere close to capacity. Which means taking on an extra time intensive activity is difficult. This can be overcome, but it is certainly a concern heading into any new initiative.

When considering which option would suit your firm best, below are the three main ones and some of the benefits to picking these options.

  • External BD Consultants/Coaches

The main benefits to using external fall in two main areas, the first is that they have replicable experience of having coached others, the second is that within the law firm environment the fact that they are external, and the firm is paying for the services, seems to bring them added credibility within the firm and with those they are coaching.

The last part there is something I have observed from doing both roles. When you are part of an internal BD team it is easy for the person you are coaching to postpone or cancel their meetings with you, after all, you aren’t travelling in, and it doesn’t cost the firm anything. It is also the case that if the firm invests its money in external coaches, then it sends a message across the firm that this is a serious initiative.

The next dynamic of the external consultant is they have an ability to be able to challenge constructively, particularly with the senior leaders and partners. This challenge is a vital part of changing habits and behaviours, and it is a lot easier to do as a consultant than it is as a paid employee to one of the owners of the business.

This is further true when it comes to looking at ‘cross-selling’ initiatives. An external consultant, while having to be aware of internal dynamics, is not embroiled in internal politics and is therefore better placed to start putting into place behaviours that will assist these types of initiatives. An external coach also reports in to a senior resource and therefore is well placed to have an honest non-confrontational chat with the leadership team about any blockers, so that alongside the firm they can decide the best way forward.

Which, all in all, means that as well as having the replicable tools and skillset, external coaches are much more likely to be listened to within the partnership, and thus your BD coaching programme should get off to a great start.

  • Internal Resources – Typically Your In-House BD Team

While the above gives some clear benefits to using an external consultant, it certainly does not mean that you should discount the internal team entirely. There are some real benefits to using internal resources. The first is, of course, that they already understand the firm’s ‘go-to-market’ strategies, as well as the unique culture that exists within the firm.

The second factor is that it helps to both embed and create an ongoing culture of BD coaching. If the resources are in-house, they are easily accessible on an as required basis in addition to a structured programme. The easiest way to describe this benefit is that you get the advantage (when back in the office environment) of access to ‘water-cooler’ coaching. In essence, this means that fee-earners can get in the moment coaching ahead of an important call or meeting, and these short sharp conversations can really make a huge difference.

The next part of the equation is that in using your BD/Marketing teams as coaches, the extra time they spend as advisors to partners/fee-earners, the more recognition for their skills and experience will be seen within the firm.

Finally, I have talked about the most common in-house resource that is typically used for BD coaching withing a law-firm, i.e., the BD and marketing team. However, that’s not to say that fee-earners cannot be BD coaches. The coaching that is received from fee-earners by their colleagues is often sought-out and well received. One down-side to this, is if you are trying to change the mindset of your lawyers, then that is perhaps best achieved by those who, while they understand lawyers, don’t think like lawyers. In BD coaching diversity of thought goes a long way.

However, the main barrier to using fee-earners as the primary source of BD coaching is utilisation. Those that charge by the hour have little free time to invest in coaching others. So, having partners and fee-earners as auxiliary and support coaches is fantastic for the overall success of the programme, but in the majority of firms, should not be your only resource for BD coaching.

  • Hybrid – Internal & External Coaches: A Powerful Combination

The final model combines the two above and, in my experience, particularly in medium to large size law firms, it works really well.

Having the external consultants establish the programme, set up the platform for change of behaviour and culture within the partnership works really well. While doing this, they can also work with the proposed internal coaches to build their coaching skills and develop a programme for internal BD coaching support.

This model provides the immediate impact from an external, with the benefits of an ongoing coaching culture utilising the firm’s existing resources. In many ways, it is the classic ‘win-win”.


All law firms share characteristics with each other, but all have different cultures and personalities within them. Successful BD coaching programmes work within the dynamics of these cultures and personalities. This is why different models and different coaching resources need to be used for each and every law firm. Getting this right is worth the investment as it will set your law firm up for growth for many years ahead.

Ben Paul is the Founder of The BD Ladder and is one of Nexl’s Business of Law’s resident experts. If you’d like to have a chat with Ben to discuss which options of BD coaching might work best for your firm, then you can book an initial chat here.




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