To dramatically enhance your productivity, zero in on the biggest source of stress and wasted time: toxic clients. Some lawyers fight to hold onto business at all costs. After all, it’s an article of faith that it’s easier to retain a client than to win a new one. As a result, many lawyers are loath to fire clients, even when it’s the right move.
We surveyed US lawyers to determine how anxious or confident they are. Mostly, they were anxious.
An overwhelming number of attorneys (89%) ranked themselves low to modest on having a steady stream of high-quality opportunities, yet 48% ranked their overall business development confidence level at 6 or higher (all ratings are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 highest). According to research psychologist Dr. John McCabe, this may be due to what is known as “self-presentation,” which is part of “impression management” theory.
One important consequence of Great Recession is that many lawyers’ longheld beliefs about BD are no longer true. Lawyers now must compete under the conditions and marketplace rules that their clients have faced forever. Here are a baker’s dozen seller’s myths to relegate to the trash bin in favor of market truths that will be with you for the balance of your career.
If you claim to want to become a rainmaker and escape the professional and financial vulnerability associated with depending on others for clients and work, what are you willing to do to get it? Do you even know what it takes to get what you say you want? The amount of time and effort required will vary depending on the amount and type of business you're trying to generate, your market position now, and a few other factors.
What will constitute a successful year of business-getting for you? Will it be whatever it turns out that you happened to get, or have you set a goal that would represent real accomplishment, and put in place a plan to achieve it?
For the 30 years I've been coaching them, lawyers have resisted anything that smells like goal-setting, and, perish the thought, planning. Here’s how to get what you want.
Study after study reinforces that one of the main causes of client dissatisfaction--and departure--is not knowing their business, which can mean being perceived as not having sufficient context for your legal advice to maximize its value. It also means that you won’t be able to proactively approach them with fresh thinking that will differentiate you from all the other lawyers whose expertise and experience equals yours.
If your conversations are largely limited to discussions about legal work in progress, or trying to get them to reallocate their current legal spend in your favor, you’re part of the problem. Here’s how to reposition yourself.
Too many lawyers attempt to get on prospects’ calendars to discuss some legal service or another. Without realizing it, they’re asking someone to allocate a portion of a busy day to discuss what, absent any correlation to a business challenge, is irrelevant to that day. This is why it’s hard to get appointments, and why they’re so often rescheduled or cancelled. Here’s a better way.
Have you considered that the language you’re most comfortable with, that you use without thinking, erects obstacles to getting the business you want? If you’re still using “lawyer language,” you might want to begin sounding less like you and more like your clients.
In a previous post, Things we say that make it hard to get business, I pointed out some common verbal habits that produce unintended consequences. In A game of Taboo: Lawyer business development technique, I challenged you to move beyond the obvious to get more creative with your descriptions. Continuing in that vein, it’s time to look more closely at our reliance on practice-group names and other noun-oriented expressions that undermine compelling communication.
Standard approach to practice descriptions
This is an actual practice description from a BigLaw website.
Our team is well prepared to counsel on the following areas related to autonomous vehicles:
Data privacy and protection
“Well, now, it’s nice that you’re ‘prepared to counsel’. I’m better prepared to ignore.”
I’m sure you’ve seen lots of similar descriptions, likely at your own firm. But think the yawn that’d be hard to suppress if other businesses took such a spare approach:
Realtor: “Places to live”
Restaurant: “Food to eat”
Car dealer: “New and used cars”
You get the idea.
I don’t blame you for this habit. During the 20-odd-year run of fantastic demand for legal service, none of this mattered much. Everybody was buying legal services, and they were buying those nouns. You could even argue that those labels served as a kind of shorthand among inside- and outside counsel. Every industry has its jargon.
Nowhere near good enough now
However, in the uber-competitive conditions that will comprise the balance of your career, sticking with this dull form of expression represents a lost opportunity to differentiate. Especially when you let it creep into descriptions of your aspired role in a dynamic, emerging industry such as autonomous vehicles. It’s just plain lazy.
That AV space is exciting, fast-paced, and opportune. Those who populate it are disinclined to translate your broad label into anything meaningful to them. Which of the dozens of possible interpretations of “Insurance” do you want them to associate you with? How about Cybersecurity? The list above consists of extremely broad categories.
Resolve to do your part to make it easy for contacts, prospects, and clients to recognize your relevance and potential value. Translate these into demand-stimulating descriptions of problems that you solve, that those you wish to do business with are obligated to care about and seek solutions to.
This is what the conversation sounds like inside your clients’ and prospects’ companies. They’re not talking about “Intellectual property,” and “corporate transactions.” They’re talking about keeping competitors from copying their technology, or acquiring a company that has a product that will allow them to accelerate their strategy. They’re talking about the problems and challenges that give rise to demand for your legal services. If you’re not talking about what they care about, they’ll ignore you.
There’s a defensive consideration here, too. As you remind me every time I coach you, any company of size or sophistication already has outside counsel providing services in each category. The firm that does most of a company’s Employment work owns that label. Likewise for every other service label. If XYZ firm owns “M&A” at this company, when you say “M&A,” XYZ comes to the client’s mind. You reinforce the incumbent’s position.
Translate and expand
Take a look at your practice group description. If it’s populated by dead nouns, create a table that correlates each to more useful language.
Lawyers reading this who practice in these areas, or who focus on the automotive sector, are doubtless chuckling at my amateurish examples, drawn as they are via quick Google searches ([legal service label + “issues automotive industry 2019”), but I hope you can get past that and take the larger point.
The next time your practice group meets, get your colleagues working on a table of problems that correspond to your service offerings. Then, encourage and help each other form new speaking and writing habits that will align you with what buyers care about.
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What do you do when a competitor does something that your didn’t anticipate, that threatens your position? What if he copies your innovation (forget the IP implications for the moment)? Or recruits your people? There are many things possible, but one that lawyers see with some frequency is a competitor undercutting your price. Here’s a better way to respond than the norm.