Don’t partners need the freedom to pursue business where they can? Isn’t that what the firm is ceaselessly urging them to do? How can you encourage them to obsess over business development and then say no when that’s exactly what they try to do? Isn’t this the essence of “entrepreneurial?”

No, it’s the essence of business development.

Right about now you may be thinking that I’m picking a fight over semantics, but to me words—and the conscious considerations and unconscious attitudes that flow from them—matter.

Just today I had the chance to ask an old friend whose opinions I value what he thought of the concept of entrepreneurial lawyers. His immediate response: “They’re not entrepreneurs, but they’re jealous of their sexy high-tech clients who can wear chinos to work.”

A harsh characterization, perhaps (my friend isn’t known for mincing words), but he has a point, which will be my final one.

In the corporate world, everyone knows what firms, and leaders of firms, are truly entrepreneurial and which, as successful and renowned as they may be, are long since past that stage. Henry Ford was an entrepreneur; Alan Mulally is not. So too with Thomas Edison and Jeff Immelt, Thomas Watson, Jr. and Virginia Rometty.  Legendary today are Elon Musk, Sergey Brin, Chuck Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg, and I could go on.

So what was this all about?

It was all about the power of words, and how certain words can tend to be conversation-stoppers and to slam shut the gate on further thought.

I started by telling you how I did an inattentive low altitude flyover whenever I heard a lawyer invoke the word “entrepreneurial” as a self-descriptor. I was mistaken; I should have paid more attention.

Do not permit it to end the conversation. Insist on their specifying how the firm’s strategic objectives factor into their personal (autonomous) game plans. Hold them accountable for business development, if you will, but insist on truth in labeling.

Or you could always invite them to start a software company.

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