How To Teach Your Lawyers To "Sell"

Or Can We Turn Drought Makers Into Rainmakers?

by William J. Flannery, Jr.

This article appeared in the ALA Marketing Management newsletter in the Spring of 1992. The format and approach is in the form of a letter to the managing partner outlining the why and what the firm should do in marketing, business development or client development.

Memo to: Managing Partner

From: Director of Client Relations/Law Firm Administrator/Executive Director

Subject: Teaching our lawyers to "sell"

If we are to be more successful at developing business and increasing profitability, we will need to help our lawyers to learn new skills, modify their individual behavior and change their attitude about marketing and selling legal services. We may have to, at a later date, look at changing the firm's reward and recognition (compensation systems) to encourage the appropriate new behavior. It is clear to me that we need to quit talking about business development and begin taking action. Training is the first step.

If clients and prospective clients buy legal services from lawyers directly and not from seminars, brochures, newsletters, etc. then our lawyers should be expected to develop the lion's share of the business by meeting clients face-to-face. Clearly opportunities for business will continue to come from our seminars, newsletters, brochures, speeches, client outings and the articles we have written. However, we will need to be more effective at taking these opportunities and developing them into clients or expanding current client relationships. Therefore, the emphasis should be on teaching our lawyers to be more effective at those face-to-face client and prospective client meetings. The skills we will need to teach our lawyers are simple. The bigger challenge will be to modify their behavior and change their attitudes. We will not be able to force change or use fear as the method of motivation. Perhaps we should consider a change in the course emphasis and a title that focuses on current client relationships. The tone and title of the course will go a long way to making business development more acceptable. We could call the course "Building and Maintaining Effective Client Relationships." We may want to delete the words marketing and selling from the firm's lexicon.

We should select a group of no more than three lawyers to be our curriculum development committee. This would allow the lawyers to put their fingerprints on the course and increase firm-wide acceptance. We will need to be sensitive to the NIH (Not Invented Here) syndrome. We may want to suggest to the curriculum development committee that they consider having an announced course goal. An example might be: To teach lawyers how to establish and develop more profitable relationships with existing and new clients.

The key subjects we may want to teach:

  • Listening and personal communications skills
  • Understanding client's communications styles and decision making
  • Conducting face-to-face client and prospective client legal services needs interviews
  • Understanding how clients choose their outside lawyers and law firms
  • Client retention strategies and developing clients relationships effectively
  • Increasing client satisfaction and quality service management strategies
  • Developing client legal service planning and creating firm-wide client service teams

The course probably should use communications skills tests, short lectures, structured group discussions, workshops, team exercises and real client case studies as the teaching methods. As part of the case studies we could either use clients or "outsiders" to role-play mock clients. We could have our lawyers "visit" these mock clients. The purpose would be to practice using the skills they would be learning in the course. It might be interesting if we video-taped the mock client visits and played the tapes back as a self-diagnostic learning tool. Video-taping will not be new, most CLE courses in trial skills, presentations skills, client interviewing and client counseling use the video-taping approach to learning. The other alternative is to buy pre-recorded sales training courses. There are several good video-taped "selling" programs that we could buy. We could use these taped courses as supplemental material. If we showed the tapes we would need to caution our lawyers that these canned programs may not represent the circumstances they will encounter. We could also use the tapes as a way of either developing our own taped series or as a catalyst for group discussion.

PARTICIPANTS: We will have to train all partners and associates. We will need to give everyone the opportunity to learn these important skills. To get the firm's attention, the initial group should be the firm's leadership. Leadership by example will go a long way to changing everyone's view of the importance of the need to focus on increasing business. We should start with a small control group of no more than eight to ten. Afterward we can make a judgment about increasing the size of the group.

LENGTH and LOCATION of the COURSE: Two to three consecutive days and several follow-up sessions. Anything shorter would be viewed as cursory, not substantive and probably wouldn't cause the desired change in behavior. We will need to consider doing this training off-site to avoid constant interruptions.

INSTRUCTORS: It is my view that the success of the course will be mostly related to the instructor's abilities. The instructor(s) should have a high energy level, good communications skills and an ability to gain the respect of the participants. One absolute rule is: The instructor must not be boring. There should be some passion and enthusiasm about the subject matter. In selecting the right person we have several options. All them have their pros and cons. I thought I might compare several potential training instructors and their approaches.

Professional Trainers

Pro: They have the teaching and course development skills.

Con: Expense and familiarity with lawyers and the firm's culture may be a limitation.

Law Firm Consultants

Pro: Experience and knowledge about lawyers and firms.

Con: Lack of teaching and course development skills. They may want to cross sell the firm unneeded consulting services.

Our Firm's Rainmakers

Pro: They understand the firm and are successful at "selling".

Con: The rainmaker's style may not be appropriate for everyone and could cause resentment and negative vibes. Often, they themselves do not know nor can they teach the secrets of their success. Teaching rainmaking by mentoring is largely a myth.

Marketing Professors

Pro: They have written books and teach marketing in business schools. They understand the concepts.

Con: These people are usually good at concepts and theory but frequently they lack practical experience. It is often said that they are teaching because they can't make a living themselves doing what they teach others to do.

Marketing Professionals

Pro: They know business and marketing at the practical day-to-day level. They may have been clients and may understand the buyers' motivations and needs.

Con: They can sell products and services but may not be able to teach lawyers or law firms the skills to develop clients and business.

Law Firm Support Staff

Pro: Law firm administrators and marketing directors know the lawyers and the firm. They may have an understanding of what needs to be taught.

Con: You can never be a prophet in your own house. They may need to deliver bad news to the unsuccessful trainees and thus creating unneeded enemies. They may not have teaching experience.

Clients Instructors

Pro: Great idea that can be a client relationship builder.

Con: More preaching than teaching. The lawyers may discount the message and shoot the messenger. Clients may lack the skills to teach. Clients may be shocked at their lawyer's lack of knowledge and skills. The clients could become openly critical during the training.

I recommend we select the curriculum development committee ASAP. Their role will be to develop the course, select the instructor(s) and implement the course. As I suggested, we may want to announce to the firm our intentions. We should be careful to avoid the message that the training is a remedial rainmaking course or that the firm is in desperate need of business. We will need to have several follow-up sessions after the initial training as a way to identify our successes and necessary course corrections. The follow-up sessions will help us make adjustments in the course to insure a reality-based training program. The follow-up sessions could also serve as a way to identify the business that came as a direct result of the training.

We should expect to spend between $1000 to $3000 per lawyer to train. As a comparison, off-the-shelf generic corporate marketing or sales training programs that are worth their salt are priced at $1500 to $3000 per student. It would only take an increase in fees of approximately $5,000 per lawyer over the course of their career to give the firm a payback for the lawyer's time and training cost. The other benefit to the training will be that we will enhance the quality of our relationships with our current clients and reduce client defections. In these recessionary times, client retention is important. It costs five times as much to find a new client as it takes to keep our current profitable clients. Therefore, we should train to retain! Lastly, we may not have an opportunity later to train our lawyers when the economy turns around and they become too busy or complacent to invest their time in training.