Selling for law firms – is your firm still as bad as ever?

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Selling for law firms - Picasso's Guernica

Selling for law firms. Why Is selling still such a dirty word in the legal profession? I recently bumped into some old college chums who run their own legal practice. I asked them a perfectly straightforward question: “How is your sales team doing?”

I’m annoying like that. However, the looks of bewilderment and horror I received were similar to those you would find in Picasso’s Guernica.

Shocked by my question they may have been, but I was even more shocked by the reception it received. It illustrated to me just how little has changed in the 20 years I’ve worked with the legal profession.

Stating the Obvious…

Avoidance of devoting time to sales or even an anti-sales mentality are still quite common. Perhaps it is because the profession is only just overcoming the upheaval caused by the introduction of marketing!

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. You are in business. You have to sell to stay in business. That means you need a sales team. That is a given – the only other thing you need to work out is what your sales team should look like.

A dedicated sales function?

Think hard before going down this route. The purist approach is to bring in experienced sales people with legal industry knowledge. These people all have to be paid and, although they bring in business, they do not generate fees. Furthermore, are you sure you want another tier of “suits” between you and the client? For one thing, how will potential clients react to being dealt with by someone who cannot do the legal work?

Over the years, I have witnessed a number of examples of this approach. By and large, they have all failed. However, I have seen scenarios where it has worked. These involved small sales teams comprised of senior lawyers or ex lawyers acting on a consultancy basis. Such people have extensive knowledge of the services on offer and years of client nurturing experience. That said, these ambassadors still have to be paid. So, once again, think hard.

An integrated sales function?

In effect, this means that all your fee earners should take some responsibility for sales. This is particularly true if you are a partner. And that is exactly what I meant when I asked my friends how the sales team was doing – they are the sales team. So, how do you create the right environment for this to happen?

Many fee earners will shy away from sales activity for a variety of reasons. However, one thing is clear. If you expect them to engage in the process, you need to give them the tools to do the job. This requires training not only in some of the obvious sales skills but also in some of the softer skills such as listening and asking open questions. After all, these will also come in handy when they are doing fee earning work with clients.

Providing the right kind of training will not make things happen on their own. There has to be some form of incentive. In most businesses, sales people’s remuneration is composite. It includes “basic” and performance-based commission. For fee earners in a law firm the commission element would be a good starting point for work brought in for others. An annual bonus based upon cross-selling performance will also do the trick.

Where to start?

Selling for law firms - Guernica

Cross-selling is as good a place as any to start. Clients involved in a transactional matter such as a conveyancing are prime candidates for referral to your wills department.

Your strongroom is the second port of call. It will contain all manner of wills, documentation and other miscellaneous content. If you have decent practice management software in your organisation it can be a real boon. For example, LawWare’s software has a built-in strongroom component. You can add times and dates for review to each strongroom entry to automate the process and prompt you to contact clients.

LawWare also includes a Client relationship management module. This should be the next place you look. You can use it as a method of contacting clients and prospects on a regular basis. In addition, you can use it to fine tune your marketing to specific groups of clients which then allows you to sell effectively and efficiently to them.

These three starting points are commonly known as the “lowest hanging fruit”. It is far easier to sell to existing clients than it is to convince new ones to come on-board. Once you get past this point, you are into areas such as networking, third-party referrals and just plain old new business development. Allow your team to cut their teeth on the low hanging fruit first. This will give them the confidence to move onto tougher prospects. Selling for law firms is a cultural development process.

The selling for law firms culture.

Many firms need a cultural shot in the arm to get the sales ethic going. This should come from the top. Think about your criteria for elevating a fee earner to a partner. Excellent fee earning stats are one thing, but is the business brought in by the fee earner? Partnership criteria should include both elements.

That’s the easy bit! Allied to that you should look at building a clearly defined sales and marketing strategy which includes a series of elements:

  • A definition of your target markets.
  • Strategic SMART objectives for generating new business.
  • The allocation of responsibility to individual fee earners for meeting those objectives.
  • A clear, measurable control system for monitoring performance.

The days of random advertising, mailing and ad hoc networking are long gone. If your sales approach is to yield tangible benefits, it requires organisation, persistence and continual review.

Happy selling!

Mike O’Donnell, October 2018.

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