For quite a few years now, we’ve been hearing about the changes in the legal industry - heavy regulation, compliance, more competition, new entrants to the market, client demands, etc., etc. So, it looks like the legal profession is going the same way as all the other industries and lawyers are going to have to continue to ultimately “sell” themselves and their services to clients and prospects. I’m certain that a fair few already do that judging by the rising earnings of many lawyers in the UK. But what are the successful firms doing? And what do we call this process of telling and informing prospects about the law firm’s services, people, expertise, experience and value adds? Hang on, that sounds like “sales” to me!
The good news for lawyers is that if they look after a good handful of relationships, provide real value to clients and get the right result that the client is looking for, then they’re much more likely to be used again for that and other types of work. That’s easy (!) and it’s not “sales” is it? All well and good with clients that you have but what about those special potential clients you want to work with but don’t yet?
We know that partners of the modern day law firm are presented with what Jay Lorsch and Thomas Tierney in their book “Aligning the Stars” refer to as the “three hat challenge”, where law firm partners have to be producers (actually doing the work), managers (managing the work) AND owners (strategising the work) within a law firm. All this is very difficult to get right. Well, I would add a fourth explicit hat. “Salesman” – i.e. those winning the work in the first place. Sure, firms have put in place business development functions to assist with these processes, but ultimately, it’s the combination of understanding the client’s needs and the processes they’re going to go through during the engagement with the firm; and the lawyer’s gravitas, credibility, expertise; and the outcome that the potential client is really after and this all needs to be conveyed to the potential client.
In busy, modern day law firm environments, it’s equally important to know what you’re going to ‘pitch’ when you get the chance but, before that it’s important to ascertain how you are going to get there in the first place. Business development efforts need to be focused and support the strategy of the firm moving forward.
If we now bring technology in to this discussion, how can technology support a lawyer’s sales process? Well, I don’t think technology should tell a lawyer HOW to sell, it should tell a lawyer when it’s the RIGHT time to make contact with the RIGHT person and initiate a conversation (not a pitch!). In turn, the efforts the fee earners are making themselves need to be visible and rewarded appropriately. In this context, you might want to read this recent blog by ex-General Counsel of Post Office Limited, Chis Aujard.
CRM systems can help – when fee earners and partners are busy serving existing clients and working on matters, it’s all too easy to put off ‘business development’ until later. But, with thought, these systems should prompt fee earners and Partners to ‘do business development’ - i.e. inform them that:
- their contact now works for a new organisation (potential new client!)
- their contact has now left the organisation that the firm does work for (potential client loss!)
- a contact’s job title has changed and they’re now responsible for a larger budget of legal services (potential additional services!)
- a colleague has just made contact with your contact (potential opportunity with existing client)
The above examples are just some ways in which relationship management can assist and provide lawyers with “calls to action”. And relationship management isn’t a one-off activity; it must be done across the lifecycle of a client. Ignore these calls to action at your peril!