Why you haven’t been hired

Not getting hired? It’s not for the old-school reasons most lawyers (and others) assume, but for much simpler human reasons that are easier to fix.

Where did I end up? Is that where I meant to go?

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.

What are the most common sales objections?

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.

Why triggering demand for your expertise makes all the difference

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.

Learning to learn

Many lawyers struggle to learn business development skills, in no small part because they don’t embrace the need to get better at it. Here’s how to shift your mindset to enable continuous learning.

Ditch practice-group nouns in favor of words that sound like your buyers’ conversation

Hello- my name is Irrelevant.jpg

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:

  • Corporate compliance

  • Corporate transactions

  • Cybersecurity

  • Environmental

  • Data privacy and protection

  • Intellectual property

  • International trade

  • Insurance

  • Product liability

  • R&D financing

  • Regulatory compliance

“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.

Prac grp labels vs relevant problems.jpg

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.

Next steps

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.

Mike O’Horo


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The best development ever in business development training

Dezurve provides a year’s worth of business development education for a per-lawyer cost that’s less than you’ll spend on coffee in a week — and solves a problem that wastes 80% of your biz dev training budget.

Respond creatively to competitive challenges

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.

To remain relevant to clients and prospects, get informed and stay informed

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.

Don't be tempted to write a clever lead-generation email

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After enduring enough of this, it can be tempting to try to be clever with your email’s Subject line to induce people to open your email, or to play a little fast and loose with body copy, all in the hopes of getting them on the phone. However, don’t. Just don’t.

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How long does it take to become relevant to your clients?

Somehow, it continues to be news that companies want -- and are beginning to require -- their outside law firms to be relevant, i.e., to understand their industry, business, products, and the overall context within which legal advice is formulated and rendered. How long does it take to acquire that perceived relevance. Here’s your answer.

58% of sales meetings are not valuable to buyers

In a recent post, I shared research showing that 82% of B2B decision-makers consider commercial salespersons to be unprepared. I speculated (with confidence based on almost 30 years coaching lawyers) that lawyers might not fare even that well on the “prepared” scale. Yes, it’s that bad.