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State of Legal 2012: Selling Means We are All Solos

2012 January 11
by John Wallbillich

This is day six of a quick tour of the enterprise law landscape. Day one was an overview and focused on the lawyer; day two was Cost Control 2.0, day three was about legal tech going app-centric, day four examined why close counts with clients, and day five suggested that thinking all lawyer training involves CLE may be a CLM.

Today we examine why many lawyers think “selling” is a dirty word and why, in the real enterprise legal world, we are all solos when it comes to selling.

You remember the first time you heard about sales. If it wasn’t before college, you recall the time in your junior or senior year when everyone starting making plans for post-graduation. The wannabe lawyers and doctors knew grad school was required, as did the MBAs. The engineers were sifting through multiple job offers.

And then there were the outgoing types who got through college by force of personality as much as by dint of hard work. The comment then was “he’s going into Sales.” For the early years after college, a mention of his name might produce the response “On, he’s in Sales.” It was not explicitly intended as an insult, but those words just sort of hung there in the smoky haze of the local watering hole.

Flash forward and where is everyone now? Well the doctors have too much business; selling is typically turning the phones on at 9:00 am, and sometimes losing money on each patient. The lawyers are wondering what the hell happened (as are many engineers). The MBAs are either toiling away in the bowels of Finance or Procurement, or, if they are lucky enough to have a senior position, wish they were better at sales.

And then there is that “Sales Guy” from college. He is gainfully employed. He’s worked for a number of companies, and upgraded his base, bonus and stock options each time. He never had to look for a job, as the offers come looking for him.

And you don’t see him much in the summer, as he is at his house on the lake.

One reason we may have gone to law school is precisely because we didn’t want to sell (second only to not tolerating the sight of blood).

How is that working out for us now?

Let’s look at the three major lawyer categories in enterprise legal, and how they are positioned, sales-wise:

1. Lawyers at large firms. The good news: they often have marketing personnel inside the firm. The bad news: they are typically building the firm name, not the names of 500 individual lawyers. When it comes to networking, some of that (maybe) can be outsourced or automated. But when it comes to selling bit-ticket legal services to billion-dollar companies, it takes selling. As in face-to-face meetings, and many of them. Sometimes over months or years. Can you take a lot of rejection, but not take it personally? If so, you have part of what it takes.

2. Lawyers at smaller firms or solos. The bad news: you are likely the marketing department. The good news: your name may be the brand mark. Your challenge is how to define and describe a niche that can put you on equal footing with large firm lawyers. Our friend Joe B. above is not going to cut it.

3. In-house lawyers. Ah, you’re in luck, right? One reason you went inside was to do away with timesheets and endless marketing efforts. You have a captive client, you don’t need to sell. Really? If you’re not selling the fact that the legal department is advancing business objectives, then you are falling behind. If you’re not selling yourself as about 5x better than outside counsel in cost, speed, and outcomes, then you may be falling out.

Clients buy the lawyer, and justify the purchase with the firm. On the in-house front, internal clients should use “legal” because they want to, not just because they have to.

There is so much room for improvement in the selling of legal services. For those who are so inclined, take heart. If you do anything somewhat regularly, you are going to be better than the other 99%, who typically do nothing ever.

I want to close this essay by recounting recent personal experience. There is a well known lawyer in town who started in a very large firm, and then left to build his own, which is quite successful. I saw him twice in the last few months. Over the holidays, I saw him at a nearby Starbucks, early on a Saturday morning. He was talking to a current or future client, as far as I could tell over the din of the espresso machine.

That’s not the best part. I saw him a few months earlier, at a local restaurant. Again, one-on-one with someone, talking business as I walked in, and talking about civic matters when I went back out to my car to retrieve a legal pad. Now why was I there? I was at a luncheon sponsored by the State Bar of Michigan. The agenda: legal marketing. The attendees? A bunch of lawyers. As I sat there listening to a speaker talking about how to stalk potential clients through Linked In, I couldn’t help but think about the name partner just outside. He has been “linked in” to marketing and selling for years. (Yes, he’s on Linked In; I just checked. I’d wager $100 that he doesn’t know his password.)

Does this all come easy to him? Maybe. But he is consistently out there, talking one-on-one to people who hire lawyers. Sounds somewhat like Legal Sales 101.

Neither of these episodes may involve some exotic social media infused, SEO-enhanced, lead-gen strategy, utilizing cloud-based CRM.

Works for him, though. And did I mention that the once and future client at Starbucks bought the coffee? What a concept!

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