Getting lawyers to sell

You might be thinking it would be easier to make the elephant dance. In many cases you would be right. But every elephant can dance in their own way.

Before we look at how to get lawyers to go out and sell, it is worth looking at why they should and why they do not.

The growing imperative

To be brutal – there are a growing number of lawyers looking for an ever decreasing pool of work. As technology comes into the sector more and more transactional work will move into the realm of AI and off the lawyer’s desk. This means that lawyers are squeezed into the space of high-end strategic work, ‘product design’ and working the edge in which they marry two areas of law to achieve creative solutions. There is not a huge amount of room in that space and, all too soon, there will simply be a surplus of lawyers. Clients will have the power of choice.

The corollary is that lawyers will have to compete on two levels – their expertise and their ease of use. Expertise is increasingly seen by clients as more than just knowing the law. Today, it is about knowing business, the sector, the economy. It is about thinking globally and commercially. Even family lawyers need to understand the machinations of a family business.

Ease of use is about being easy to work with. Clients may approach on the basis of expertise, but they choose on the basis of comfort. Research has shown that 60% of a buying decision is emotional. Clients will select or reject on the basis of how comfortable they feel with you.

The trouble with these two buying factors is that neither can be demonstrated by sitting behind a desk waiting for the work to come in; neither is apparent through a website (especially ease of use) nor can they be compared from a distance. They can only be imparted through interaction. That means that lawyers simply have to get out there and talk to people, demonstrate their expertise and prove their ease of use.

Why BD is so painful?

There are many reasons. Some structural, the others emotional.

  • The God of billable hours. Firms, or maybe the CFO’s of firms persist in driving and measuring profit through the hours spent at a desk. The result? A perpetual and reasonable excuse not to leave the office for at least 6.5 hours when the target is met.
  • The partnership hive. Too many firms persist in presenting themselves as ‘partner led’. This sounds impressive, but it also drives a culture in which partners are expected to bring in the work while solicitors scurry around like worker bees doing their 6.5 hours and a few more resentful hours in training. The result? Too many lawyers think they do not have to get from behind the desk. BD is somebody else’s responsibility. That becomes a comfortable habit.
  • The perfectionist personality. Having worked with lawyers for well over 20 years, I can safely assert that they are, by nature, high achievers – but they are a special sort of high achiever. They are ambitious perfectionists. This subject requires a whole article (which is promised) but in relation to BD this personality has a deep fear of not having an answer or ‘failing’. Selling involves both. The reality is that if you go out and meet potential clients they will ask questions you cannot answer. Likewise, it is very unusual to meet someone and sell your expertise immediately. It is normal to have to say ‘I cannot answer that right now’ and to walk away without an instruction. But that, to an ambitious perfectionist is a double failure.

So how do you get your legal elephants to do the BD dance?

  1. Start early. Lawyers should be told from the day they start their traineeship that selling is part of their role. It is what will keep their business alive and the only way to assure their billable hours. BD should be a professional habit, well ingrained and well supported by partners.
  1. Shift the mind-set. Lawyers need to accept that selling is a long haul flight. Networking is simply an opportunity to connect with people and show your social skills; a first meeting is a first step on building a relationship – it might take four or five meetings before the client is ready to buy; a presentation is an opportunity to present your expertise and personality; a pitch is, yes, a competition which you might not win – but do it well and you will be asked back. You can leave every one of these situations without an instruction. But if you have demonstrated expertise and ease of use, you are doing BD.
  1. Invest time. BD is not a last minute task for a Friday afternoon. It needs to happen every day. Even if you only have a ‘one connection a day’ rule, keep to it. Make a call, send a mail, write an article, go for a coffee – whatever it takes, just do it.
  1. Work to your strengths. Every lawyer can learn to sell in their own way within their own style. For some the networking, mingling and connecting will be comfortable, to others it is a source of stress. If you are terrified by the thought of presenting, then do case study sessions with smaller groups; if your clients look for expertise, write articles and attend conferences; if you get work through referrers then make connections and start referring to them. There are many routes to a sale – you just have to choose your path.
  1. Get profiled. We live in a business age where there is no excuse to remain a hidden expert behind a desk. Social media makes profiling easy and there is an easy route to getting your name in front of a huge audience. Looking at the stats of my last post, if every view had been shared, my name would have landed in hundreds of in-boxes. Take that as a request!
  1. Get skilled. Selling is not a natural skill to most lawyers. But every lawyer has the intellect to learn a new skill. Every lawyer can learn to impress at networking by questioning rather than talking; everyone can learn to give a decent presentation; every lawyer can get active on LinkedIn; we have taken the most shocking of pitch teams and developed them to the point of being described as ‘the best pitch team we have ever seen’ by the world’s biggest professional service firm. If it does not feel comfortable, get help.
  1. The last wordkeep going. BD is your business life blood. The more you try the easier it gets; the more you do, the greater the success. You might even become an elephant who loves to dance.

Note: We are starting the deWinton-Williams BD series through LinkedIn – hints and tips sheets for all kinds of BD situations.