In our first sixteen years of coaching lawyers, the running joke around the industry was that “sales” was a dirty word (a “four-letter word,” if you will) among attorneys. It was something different, strange, and scary. Over the past few years, however, the one word, to lawyers, that seems even more foreign and terrifying than “sales” is “change.”

Changes affecting the legal profession (LPO, technology, AFAs, etc.) are occurring at a rate faster than we’ve ever seen before. As a result, the legal world has become infinitely more competitive, in a relatively brief period of time. Despite this occurrence, lawyers are generally not evolving to combat these changes.

In yesterday’s Lunch with the Coach webinar, I discussed the Impact Ladder. Most lawyers endeavor to eventually become that indispensable “trusted advisor” whom the client consults prior to any significant company decision. The Impact Ladder illustrates the “climb” most lawyers must make to progress, in the client’s eyes, from relevant to indispensable:

One of his main points was that the changes in the legal profession are making it imperative for lawyers to change their client development approach:  ”Instead of being satisfied with passively accruing social intimacy with a client, lawyers must now proactively pursue professional intimacy.

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I addressed the question of why lawyers are having so much difficulty embracing change, and coming to grips with the new definition of “being relevant” to one’s clients:

“One of the reasons lawyers have resisted thinking like this, is that for 20 years or so, say, until 2008, they were in a market characterized by sky-high demand. Everybody wanted their legal product.

Those conditions are gone now.  Permanently.

We’re now in a buyer’s market where — if you’re not relevant to their businesses — clients don’t have any reason to spend time with you. They don’t have any reason to read your blog, to attend your speech at the conference, to read what you publish, to follow you on Twitter, etc. They don’t have any reason to pay attention to you, unless you are consistently relevant to their world in the way we’re discussing.

The whole concept of professional intimacy is so new to lawyers because it probably wasn’t necessary until now. The social intimacy that lawyers had with their clients was sufficient. Most of the lawyers I’ve worked with have developed great friendships with their best clients. They’ve already accomplished that social intimacy thing with great reliability. But because professional intimacy wasn’t tied to results, well…I probably wouldn’t have invested in it either.

Now, however, it’s very, very critical.  I’ll argue that it’s absolutely mission-critical.”

Lawyers must come to grips with the reality that, for most of you, unless you can generate clients, your livelihood or job security is already, or will soon be, precarious. Over the next year or two, the difference between winning and losing will be a process that will, undoubtedly, be determinant.

Do you want to embrace it now or will you wait—until it’s already too late—to initiate change?

Mike O'Horo

To learn how to earn professional intimacy, review the following courses at RainmakerVT:

  • What Do You Want to Be Known For? (The first course below)
  • Three-Step Decision Process
  1. Learning How Your Door-Opener Problem Affects the Company You're Talking to Now
  2. Exposing the Cost of Doing Nothing
  3. Stakeholder Alignment: Add Value By Helping Buyers Make a Good Decision