I’m serious! The world has changed. In my 27 years as a legal marketer and in-house in several firms, I have never seen the situation more serious in terms of lawyers being de-equitized or flat-out fired for not bringing in business.  Back in the nineties I was with law firms that quietly – very quietly – would advise partners to leave because they were not pulling their weight in terms of bringing in work.

That was the inspiration behind a post I did in the first month of this blog in January 2005.  My post “Rainmakers Don’t Get Fired” discussed a messy firing of a partner at then named Sidley Austin Brown & Wood.  As I pointed out then, I had not seen a rainmaker who developed significant business for themselves or other lawyers in a firm ever be let go.

And it is no different today. But, more and more lawyers will be let go in today’s tough, competitive legal world.  The reason is simple.  Clients are more demanding and less willing to pay whatever a firm wants to charge.  Accordingly, there is and will continue to be much smaller pies to share, and too many partners do not want to “sell” or don’t know how. In the the “good ole days” most lawyers didn’t have to market, because their plates were usually pretty full, especially in BigLaw firms.  So, not to worry.  Things will be fine.

With the definite move to outsourcing specific work to smaller or foreign firms, and to the use of high quality, mid-size regional firms, it is only going to get worse for the non-producers in any size firm.  It is time partners woke up to the need to develop business NOW!

Further, if your firm has a marketing department, don’t fool yourself into thinking that they will (or should) solve the problem.  Developing business (selling) is primarily up to the individual lawyer.  The marketing/business development staff is there to assist, guide and otherwise support the lawyers’ efforts.

Fellow legal marketing coach, Mike O’Horo had an interesting article last week about how lawyers avoid selling in favor of the latest marketing fad, which, of course, they hope means they won’t have to personally sell.

Well, folks.  That ain’t going to cut it.  More and more partners will get fired, if they do not get involved in serious business development efforts directly.  Planning to do it won’t work alone.  If you haven’t been developing business all along, you will need a coach to help you IMHO.  He/she could be an internal coach (if you are lucky enough to have one in-house) or an external one that you feel comfortable working with.  Because chances are you won’t pull it off by yourself.

Bottom line: time to start developing business or looking for a new job.

Not many would argue that clients hire lawyers and law firms they know, like and trust. Or they will use lawyers that were referred to them by people they know, like and trust. That certainly has been the belief of legal consultants like David Maister, who has professed such behavior over the years in his numerous books.

John Jantsch over on Duct Tape Marketing has a post on how organizing behavior is the future of marketing.   He identifies seven behaviors that will help buyers (read: clients) decide on trying your product or services. He starts with know, like and trust; but goes on to include four more: try, buy, repeat, and refer.

But to get clients to change their behavior, law firms need to change theirs first.  As Jantsch points out, contrary to the idea that content is king,:

“Today, marketing is about guiding a journey that the buyer wants to take rather than forcing them into the journey that fits our business model.

“People don’t really need more information, the need insight, they need guidance and they need an experience that allows them to behave like they want to behave. “

So, firms need to concentrate on messages that will encourage clients to get to know, like and trust them; and to:

  • try your firm,
  • have a good “buying experience”,
  • develop ties to the firm that will to ensure they repeat the buying experience, and
  • ultimately refer others because of their awesome experience.

Clients will only change their behavior as long as the firm gives them good reason to do so.  Selling them with content on your web site alone will not be enough.  Conveying marketing messages that encourages them to change their behavior is more likely the ticket.