Actually, everyone is a salesperson. Some undoubtedly are better at it than others, but every one of us learned to sell from the moment we left our mother’s womb. It may not have been polished, and the sales pitch was a bit noisy, but all parents would agree the selling was damn effective. As teenagers, albeit more on the whiny side, our selling still was effective to some extent in spite of our parents’ attempts to interject discipline into the process.

Then, we come to attorneys. Lawyers learn to be effective sales people as they develop their legal skills. WHOA, you say. Okay, before I lose the rest of you, I’ll explain. The fact is that lawyers sell every day to judges, opposing counsel, juries, and even clients. It’s just a different type of selling from that involved in generating business. And lawyers are a bit more uncomfortable doing the latter.

That brings me to the article “Willie Loman, Esq.: How Lawyers Became Salesmen” by Gina Passarella that first appeared in The Legal Intelligencer and this week on New York Lawyer. It explains how law firms are moving more from pure marketing to selling (oops, I mean “business development”), and quoted extensively from my colleague Jim Hassett over at LegalBizDev, who has more than 20 years experience in sales training, and from current and former CMO’s in the Philadelphia market.

The gist of the piece emphasizes the need for lawyers, generally, to become much more effective in terms of business development selling. Some key points include:

  • Don’t train everyone, since every lawyer won’t be good at it;
  • Those, who are really good at it, should be allowed to focus more on it, and not have to worry about meeting billable hour goals (see my post “Rainmakers Don’t Get Fired");
  • Train those who are willing and able to be effective salespeople, and are able to convey the firm’s value proposition to clients and prospects;
  • Emphasize the need for meaningful action plans that include more lawyer face-time with clients, referral sources and prospects; and
  • Demonstrate the firm’s capability regarding greater efficiency by way of legal project management.

We were all born a salesperson, but training can help improve lawyer selling skills in the business development arena.

  • Tom, I work with 31 of our 70 accountants on their personal sales and marketing plans and your points are right on.
    Each person is at a different level and training and learning takes place over time.
    Continual development of sales and marketing skills promotes career development, firm growth and helps ensure firm succession planning.

  • At the conceptual level, Tom, your points are inarguable. In application, I think we have to increase the granularity quite a bit. IMO, the biggest barriers to effective law firm sales operations are two-fold:
    1) the monolithic view of selling, in which only the actual direct sale activity is considered, and
    2) a legacy of product-centrism that causes the pitch model to linger long after clients and lawyers alike have sickened of it.
    The first barrier is best illustrated by analogy to litigation. If our definition of litigation was limited to the first-chair trial lawyer’s actual courtroom performance, and we ignored or devalued all of the research, assessment, investigation, preparation, etc. performed by many others, we would approximate the narrowness of the legal industry’s common definition of selling.
    The second barrier, product-centrism, refers to a mono-focus on the legal service product, and is a vestige of the high-demand, low-supply conditions that form most lawyers’ entire career experience until two years ago. Under such a “suppliers’ market,” all one need do is announce the availability of a high-quality product to buyers ready and able to buy high quality. However, when conditions change and there’s an over-abundance of high-quality product available, talking about one’s product elicits a yawn from buyers glutted with such offers.
    The irony is that the literal expression of Tom’s titular point is accurate. Lawyers don’t need any new skills, their “lawyering” skills are their selling skills. When lawyering, they assess the problem, identify its impact, help the client decide whether or not a solution of any kind is required (recognizing that doing nothing is sometimes the best choice) and, if the problem’s impact is such that a solution is imperative, they help the client decide which solution makes the most sense. At no time while “lawyering” do they urge the client to take action that benefits the lawyer; they only urge action that benefits the client. Conversely, the old school sales model, in which one tries to convince someone to buy, constitutes ill-informed, self-interested advice, i.e., “Hire me.”
    To get hired, act like you’ve already been hired and actually help the prospect. That demonstrates what it’s like to work with you. Product sampling, rather than product claims, is the most effective marketing/sales method in history.

  • We have the same situation in the UK. My company trains solicitors and lawyers in sales techniques. What I have found is a bit of snobbery when it comes to selling. Attitude is the biggest barrier to lawyers taking more responsibility for sales

  • Rusty

    Wow, this is a really interesting post. Maybe law firms should try attracting the best salesmen instead of top attorneys. This post makes perfect sense, attorneys need to be able to sell their cases to judges and juries. I have two friends in law school right now, and I know this is something they would be interested in. Thanks for the informative post.