The biggest marketing and sales obstacle lawyers face is unconscious incompetence. It means you don't know what you don't know. That's one of the four stages of competence. 

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This matters because one characteristic of that stage is overconfidence about your innate ability to generate business, based on ignorance of what it actually takes to generate business.

Unconscious incompetence isn't unique to lawyers or to business generation. It's a universal experience. We all begin there whenever we encounter something new, whether it's our ability to understand a new concept, or perform a new skill.

The problem is that this blindness makes us unable to recognize a skill deficiency. If we're not deficient, why would we seek help? That's why so many of us must learn almost everything through the School of Hard Knocks. 

A common, if somewhat frivolous, example

Let's say we're talking about golf. Since I've never played, I'm definitely at unconscious incompetence. Comparing golf to other sports I've played, in my ignorance I may conclude, "How tough can it be? The ball isn't moving; it sits there and waits for you to hit it. There's no shot clock, so you can take as long as you want. There's no defender, and everybody has to be real still and quiet so as not to distract you. How tough can it be?"

With that mindset, why would I buy golf lessons? I don't think I need them.

Any golfers reading this are chuckling at my naivete, and can't wait for me to give it a try so they can have a laugh as I disabuse myself of this foolish notion. So, I go out on the course and try to play, with predictable difficulty. Only after I've struggled can I appreciate that there's a lot more to being able to play golf than I was aware of.

Conscious Incompetence

I've just progressed to Conscious Incompetence; I now know what I don't know. One thing I know for sure is that I definitely will need some help learning the game. Only now do I experience any desire or need for training or coaching.

There's always more to any skill than meets the eye. Few lawyers have much experience at all with real selling, much less doing so in a competitive environment. As a result, most believe that what they've seen or read is the totality of it. Others believe that it's innate, the exclusive province of "naturals." That belief sometimes takes the form of, "It can't be learned; you either have it or you don't."

Obviously, holding either view won't make you seek training, or make use of it if it's provided to you. 

Worse, there's a whole generation of lawyers who made lots of rain for a long time without ever learning how to do it. Giving proper respect to the time and effort they expended, their results were more the product of the sustained demand for legal service, and the associated pricing power, that existed for more than 20 years until around 2009. If everybody's buying, and they're not overly concerned about price, and your firm's brand or your economic/social circumstance gives you access to buyers, how much skill do you really need?

Times have changed

Demand is flat at best, and there are many, many more competitors chasing a slice of the same pie. Showing up with impressive credentials is no longer enough. These are the ultra-competitive conditions under which all your clients must get their business.

Now, you have to have the same marketing and sales knowledge and skills they have. Their marketers and salespeople aren't naturals. Your clients spend big money on marketing and sales training; it's irrational to expect yourself to acquire these skills by some magical means.

Get help, whether from a friend who has the combination of business generation skills and teaching/coaching skills, and is willing to devote the time to guide you for the duration, or professionals inside your firm, or one of the many professional trainers and coaches serving the legal profession. Or, you can buy online training inexpensively, and supplement it with coaching.

From whatever source, get help. Otherwise, you'll have to learn everything the hard, expensive way, and you simply don't have the time.

Mike O'Horo


If you think coaching will help, schedule a complimentary call with me to see if we're a fit. If you prefer to learn online, check out the suite of courses and simulations within RainmakerVT.