Transforming Lawyers into Salespeople

Transforming Lawyers into Salespeople

As we are at the end of 2020, are there lawyers who still don’t realize that simply by being a great lawyer and providing excellent client support, you can’t develop a sustainable career?


Virtually all lawyers now understand, whether they accept it or not, that they are responsible for selling legal services and thereby expanding their slice of the pie. The difference between understanding this necessity and doing something about it, however, appears to be considerable.

More and more law firms employ client-facing business practitioners without law licenses to market services to fill this void. Still, for the near future, sales departments of law firms (or business growth, customer support, or revenue departments, as they are often known) may be limited in headcount compared to the lawyers’ population. The inescapable conclusion is that lawyers must become even better at marketing the services they and their colleagues provide if law firms and legal careers are to blossom.

The subject of a November 1 presentation at the LMA Mid-Atlantic Region Conference in Washington, D.C., titled “Law Firm Alchemy: Converting Lawyers into Salespeople,” was how to achieve this goal.

The session included three experts with long backgrounds in the law firm and solid credentials.

This trio discussed four main subjects:

  • At the point of sale, what it really is like, and how consumers make purchasing decisions.
  • Establishing a company-wide sales framework and vocabulary
  • The value of a differentiated customer-centered value proposition
  • Tactics to keep lawyers on a sales mission

In this article, each of the presenters offers his or her top takeaway for each of these subjects.


At the point of sale, what it really is like, and how consumers make purchase decisions:

1st Expert: The requirements by which large clients choose law firms for major engagements shifted in the wake of the 2008 recession. Until then, for similar consumers, the touchstone was successfully dealing with similar matters, followed by relationships with price as a consideration but more frequently a tie-breaker. Cost became the primary criteria with tightened legal budgets, the rise of the procurement elite, and the advent of Legal Operations Chiefs (check out CLOC and the use of reverse auctions). Clients agreed that several companies could fulfill their needs; and that they had the power to reduce legal spending.

Sales and marketing professionals role has become critically important in this setting so that law firm partners are increasingly willing to share customer-facing opportunities with non-lawyers who have three key characteristics : ( 1) they speak strategic procurement and alternative pricing language, (2) they know how to spend time asking good customer questions Legal marketers will find that they will have a seat at the sales table if they show they have such capabilities.

2nd Expert: We saw the start of the transfer of purchasing power from a law firm to a client in the early 2000s. Clients have avoided considering annual fee increases and have begun to reduce the number of businesses they are interested in. Today’s GC focuses on the development of top-line sales and helps shape business strategy. They, in fact, ask the same of their outside counsel. The definition of value is evolving as certain legal services become commoditized.

Outside counsel must be informed about the client’s market and business concerns and must be a trustworthy adviser beyond the statute. They need to provide tools and feedback that are useful for advancing the business of their client. In supplying lawyers with knowledge and intelligence, legal business development and marketing professionals play a role to fulfill this value concept while performing excellent legal work and providing superior customer service.

3rd Expert: For law firm staff professionals to provide their lawyers with maximum sales support, they need to be at the point of sale as much as possible. When they can perform sales tasks that do not require legal knowledge, law firm sales professionals are of the greatest importance to their businesses. Among these tasks are initiating meetings with clients and ensuring great follow-up. Quite frequently, these meetings with customers are not complicated, technical discussions of the law, but rather business discussions of the sort that vibrant, articulate staff practitioners are fully capable of managing, at least in the early stages of relationship-building.

In my experience, legal services customers really enjoy having meetings with staff business experts since the staff professional sees the discussion through a different lens than the lawyer does. Although the lawyer sees and discusses the legal angles, the business specialist knows the need to ask great questions and listen carefully to the responses for hints about the buyer’s and his or her company’s needs and desires. And it is absolutely normal and acceptable for him or her to actively engage in follow-up since the staff professional was at the meeting. For more and more LMA members to be at the point of sale with purchasers, the next step in the growth of legal sales and marketing is.


Creating a method and language for firm-wide sales:

2nd Expert: It goes without saying that Sales 101 does not form part of any law school curriculum. It is helpful to train lawyers at all stages of their careers on basic marketing strategies and principles to bridge the gap between business plan production and sales execution.

Effective sales organizations recognize the value of maintaining a pipeline of possibilities, nurturing one’s network, providing a customer-centered orientation, and asking for the job. In terms of sales stage and location in a sales funnel, they think of their possibilities and employ strategies clearly intended to advance an objective through the pipeline. When lawyers are systematically focused on the sales process, and strategies are given to develop partnerships or close sales, their revenue increases.

1st Expert: Teaching and coaching for sales pay rich dividends. Few lawyers are natural salespeople, but most can be trained (and to avoid cardinal sins) to be more successful. It can make a difference to put all lawyers through fundamental sales training and offer an AP course to those who are more inspired or who have useful opportunities to sell and encourage all lawyers to read a good volume or two. (Neil Rackham’s SPIN Sale is one of my favorites.)

3rd Expert: Law firms standardize from contract clauses, litigation practices, dispute control and securing exemptions, to consumer memoranda, all sorts of operations. On the sales front, it just makes sense for them to do so as well.

It becomes a branding practice when an entire company-attorneys and staff professionals-follows a structured sales process and vocabulary. Law firms can and do build reputations based on how they go to the market and their vocabulary for sales. It becomes the “Womble Way” over time, or the “Buchanan Way” or the “Steptoe Way.” It is familiar, and brand equity is created.


The meaning of a customer-centric, differentiated value proposition:

2nd Expert: Maybe the best chance of advancing one’s company’s sales success is to concentrate everybody on articulating the value proposition, what are you offering, and why buy from you? Both questions are sometimes lost in a sea of prose found in a pitch or an RFP answer.

What do you sell? “is not a definition of a field of operation. It articulates a solution that one brings to a particular question, stated in the sense of the client’s environment. Do I give job advice, or do I help keep your workforce productive? And how are you different from the rest of all the lawyers and law firms in the world? If your differentiating attribute can’t be discerned, you can’t expect your customers too.

3rd Expert: Despite our best efforts, so many lawyers still go to meetings to “show up and throw up.” This ancient approach to sales meetings makes general counsel very tired. Once lawyers and business professionals have done their homework and show the effort to understand the client’s business or prospective client, they really appreciate it.

It begins with wonderful, informed questions and sincere listening. But, often, the best answer to a customer’s question is not an answer at all; it’s another question to explore why the customer first raised the question.


Tactics for holding lawyers on a sales assignment:

3rd Expert: We have all seen plenty of sales and sales follow-up methodologies and procedures. Some are really successful and prefer to concentrate on some form of the sales funnel. While the approach a law firm chooses is not important, it is important to select only one and go deep, rather than picking and choosing various pieces from different providers.

Ultimately, the best methodologies are those that focus on two things like a laser: what’s the last thing that happened, and what’s the next thing that has to happen, by when and who is accountable for it. Ultimately, holding attorneys on track is the profession of sales and marketing practitioners.

No one in a law firm is best prepared to keep track of this form of data, and it doesn’t really matter what the receptacle is-the most expensive pipeline equipment, a basic spreadsheet, or a “Huge Chief phone.” It’s a hand-to-hand battle with lawyers to gather the data that goes through a monitoring system, but the most effective sales and marketing professionals are the ones who can get it.

2nd Expert: It’s a matter of goals and responsibility. What alternatives are we proposing, and what goals are better tailored to our value proposition? Choose the goals, follow them, and set specific plans and next steps to be achieved in short timeframes. Many businesses develop strategic strategies that are “plans to make a plan”-many projects, study, and gazing at navels. Delete all of that and narrow it down to a goal list from your business plan. Establish a top-down method of progress monitoring on pursuits, and start a new pursuit if you reach a dead end.

1st Expert: As law firms concentrate on developing incentives for good team-oriented sales, they often get bogged down in the compensation scheme debate.

No comp system is perfect; most are misunderstood by at least some portion of the partnership, and it is hard work with an unpredictable reward to make improvements to comp systems. A comp scheme that threatens firm targets should be updated. Still, it may be more useful to concentrate on other rewards (and may require important professional tasks from the Marketing Department). Much as soldiers battle wars for medals and not for pay, with the promise of recognition and praise, lawyers can be inspired to work hard for corporate BD achievements. Lawyers appear to respect (and recoil from the prospect of being embarrassed) being honored by their colleagues.

Marketing may build several devices to celebrate success, such as a weekly newsletter, a daily alumni report, popular posting on the company’s intranet; BD competitions; and shout-outs at lunches with businesses or partners. On a firm-wide basis, these and other devices can work well and even better on an office or practice group basis, where team morale can run high, and lawyers can be especially inspired to do their bit.

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