To better understand what makes lawyers successful, I launched my own research project that included gathering qualitative data from lawyers who have a variety of traits. I talked to lawyers who were introverts and extroverts; I talked to high-powered litigators and understated business lawyers. I selected lawyers whose personalities and styles were very different, because I was tired of being told that attracting and growing clients was essentially a “personality contest.” I also checked with clients to make sure that the common characteristics I found in these lawyers were the characteristics that clients truly valued.
I define marketing and business development as anything a lawyer or firm does to keep a client's work, grow work from an existing client, get work from a new client, or enhance the firm's reputation in a relevant marketplace. This definition can sound complicated, but if you focus primarily on keeping and growing existing clients, you will actually be taking major steps towards attracting new clients and enhancing the firm's reputation. Existing clients should be your sales force. How do you inspire and activate this sales force? It’s not complicated.
In order to be a great lawyer, you need to know the perceived level of importance clients attach to the work you do for them. You can disagree with a client’s characterization of what you are doing, but at the end of the day, it’s what the client thinks that matters.
When you hire an accountant, a landscaper, or a financial planner to do work for you, what would your reaction be if they did not return your phone calls promptly or failed to ask you important questions about what you expect and what you want to accomplish? What if there were no personal connection and they did not seem the least bit interested in you personally?
What if they did not get things done when they said they would, and they sent you a bill for more than you expected to pay? What if they were working on an hourly rate basis, but seemed to have no concern at all for efficiency and had no creative strategies to minimize the time needed for the project?
For many lawyers, this list of behaviors is only modestly troubling. For clients, however, these behaviors characterize ordinary lawyers, not great ones.
Early in our careers as lawyers we are taught what it takes to be called a great lawyer within a law firm: excellent research and writing skills, good negotiation and organization skills, consistent demonstration of scholarly insight, and a thoughtful (dare I say “innovative”) approach to solving legal problems. While there is certainly value in being recognized by your colleagues as a savvy technical lawyer, a terrific advocate, or a superb writer, these are—or should be—the skills of all lawyers!
To achieve true greatness, you must do all of these things, and more. You need to understand what makes clients see you as a great lawyer.
If I have learned one thing in my experience as a lawyer, consultant, and trainer, it is that lawyers typically have serious misconceptions about how they should “sell” legal services.
They think of business development as an unseemly proposition; they see it as an exercise in which they push themselves and their firms on people who don’t need or want what they have to offer.
If that were an accurate description of how you should sell legal services, I would not want any part of it either. Fortunately, that approach is just plain wrong.
The people leading professional services firms face a unique challenge: finding ways to get the people who do the work, to be more willing and able to bring in the work. These practitioners – often referred to as “seller-doers” – typically prefer the doing to the selling. That is often because they have been on the receiving end of a lifetime of bad selling. That leads them to believe it is undignified to sell.
Ask an accountant, engineer or lawyer what they think of sales and you hear words like “pushy” or “hustler.” Unskilled sales people tend to push and hustle; for skilled practitioners, it is as natural as being a friend.
Defining why your clients do business with you is key to client retention and revenue growth. Buyers always have a choice and it’s likely they work with you because of the value you provide. It is up to you to define what that value is to replicate those profitable relationships.
Understanding your buyer and articulating your value will help you differentiate your message. Many law firms have the same pitch. They claim to be service-oriented, client-focused, the best at what they do. Don’t swim in the sea of sameness.
In addition to comparing the value of one lawyer to another, buyers of legal services are also looking outside the traditional law firm to find ways to address legal challenges in cost effective ways.
Value is not measured in isolation. Buyers of legal services have many choices when it comes to addressing their legal needs, so value will always be a comparative measure.
Lawyers often think they compete against other attorneys who come from firms that are similar to their own. In today’s legal market, that theorem does not always hold true.