Recently, I spent several hours helping a very senior lawyer who called for help figuring out how to get positioned as the go-to lawyer for an emerging business problem he had observed.
He sent me a gracious thank-you note afterward. His kind gesture got me thinking about what I actually do as a trainer and coach, and the similarities to what you do as lawyers.
All of us live for the challenges. We chose to be lawyers or coaches so we could work on the ultra-complicated, unique business or legal challenges. These are the matters that require the creative, one-off solutions that we all find so stimulating, and that require us to bring our "A" game.
Fresh eyes on the problem
Much of what we often do, however, is facilitate a more thorough analysis of the situation by others. As we drill down deeper into the various scenarios, facts, and subtleties, we try to make sense of a problem as outsiders. That "fresh eyes" process helps our client separate the strategic wheat from the data chaff.
If we've done our jobs, at some point all the distracting information is stripped away, and the solution becomes obvious. Given enough time, most smart, seasoned executives and counsel will get there. Having us ask the right questions, listen, ask more questions, listen some more, and so on, can help them get there right now.
Don’t fall in love with your inventory
Years ago, a good friend had a small used car dealership, mostly selling Porsches. After a recession had firmly gripped the economy, I drove past his shop and the Porsches were gone, replaced by used Toyotas and Nissans. When I asked why, he said that the recession had dampened demand for indulgent cars. I’ll never forget his wisdom: “Don’t fall in love with your inventory. You have to sell what sells now.
Similarly, don't hitch your practice’s wagon to specific legal knowledge or skills alone. All knowledge ages and eventually obsoletes itself as demand drops. There are countless lawyers offering similar knowledge and skills, making that a race to the bottom.
Sell prospects on your ability to facilitate an outcome, using whatever resources are appropriate. Now that clients are doing more work in-house, being able to collaborate with their legal staff may be the difference between collaborating and competing -- a competition you’re guaranteed to lose.
Approaching business development this way lets you make the sale in a way that frees you from the (default) expectation that you'll be the one to do all the work. Who to hire and trust with the outcome is the client's decision. How you produce that outcome, i.e., who performs what portion of the work is yours. Make sure to sell in a way that reserves that decision to you. Otherwise, you'll be trapped on a billable-hour treadmill that's hard to escape.