Alternate Careers for Law School Grads: Business Development

If you’re thinking a legal career may not be the thing for you, a career in business development might be worth investigating. It requires analytical thinking, excellent communications skills, and an eye for detail. You already possess these traits, and law school is honing them further.

First, what is business development? Ask any ten businesscritters and you’ll get ten different answers. Here’s my take: the person wearing the biz dev hat is concerned with making a business prosper.

This requires strategic analysis of a company and its competitors. Who are your competitors? What are they doing right, and what are they doing wrong? How can you learn from them and apply that knowledge to your company?

It also means you have to get into the weeds. Perhaps the CEO is saying one thing, the marketing folks are saying something else, and the people responsible for product development are charging off in their own direction. You get to be the unifier.

Usually business development handles partnerships with other companies. Hordes of biz dev people must be involved in arranging the music and movie distribution deals for iTunes. Partnerships frequently entail a lot of up-front homework, several “get to know you” discussions, and negotiations that can last for weeks or months. Initial drafting of terms are often handled by business development, and only passed off to the legal department (or hired counsel) for review.

If business development looks interesting, get thee to a company that has internships in their business development department. If they don’t have any internships, or if they don’t have a business development department (perhaps one of the VPs doubles as director of biz dev, or the head of sales also handles biz dev), create one. Find a company you really admire, tell them you want to help, and make something happen.

This may sound like a load of overly-optimistic nonsense, but I can tell you from personal experience that if you want to advance your career – any career – your relationships with people are more important than your skills, your degree, where you went to school, or anything else. If you can show off your talents, ask a lot of questions, and immerse yourself in your work, people will notice.

They’ll want you to work with them. Perhaps they won’t be able to hire you now, but they’ll refer you to their contacts. Your payoff might be immediate, and it might come in months or years, but there will be a payoff from putting yourself out there and having a good attitude.

If you think business development might be right for you, take all the business law classes you can find. Pay extra attention to contracts, and if you can, take a negotiation or leadership class. Create a version of your resume tailored for business development work, and start using Facebook and LinkedIn (if you’re not on LinkedIn, sign up now) to spread the word that you’re looking for a biz dev internship.

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