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Today’s fiercely competitive legal service market requires far greater marketing and sales skills than ever before. Couple that with a dizzying rate of change in every aspect of business, and it becomes clear that standing pat on one’s skills is a path to failure.

You’re no longer competing only with other firms and lawyers. The legal-solution mix now includes:

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  • alternative business structures such as “legal-service companies,”

  • outsourced lower-cost labor,

  • technology,

  • the Big Four accounting firms, and (drum roll)

  • your clients, 51% of whom report that more than half of their legal activities are now conducted internally.

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These new competitors are well financed, tech savvy, and committed to training and development. The Big Four accounting firms can spend more on training than the gross fee income of many of the world’s largest firms. For example, EY spends $500m on training staff across all areas of its business. That’s about 16% of gross fee income. Compare that with law firms, who typically spend a paltry 2% of gross fee income on the entirety of their marketing and sales efforts — and that includes staff salaries.

It’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you. They are. They know what they’re doing, and they’re taking market share from traditional law firms. Not someday, but right now.

Standing still = going backwards

Now matter how good you may be, or think you are, the skill bar will get raised on you as you sleep tonight. As American educator Reed Markham wisely observed, “If you’re standing still, you’re going backwards. It takes great effort to maintain forward movement.”

According to McKinsey, as much as half of a company’s value is created by its sales force, and research shows that the “sales experience” is one of the top drivers in clients’ purchasing decisions. That means that business development can no longer be an afterthought or bolt-on. It’s now part of your firm’s identity and brand. Long before a prospect experiences your firm’s expertise and work product, they’ll experience how you sell to them, and it influences how they perceive your firm.

Sales landscape more unpredictable

“The sales landscape is more unpredictable and studded with multiple influencers, channels and buying options. Digitization is changing buyer behaviors and leading to more complex sales activities. Guiding decision makers through all the nuances and considerations requires sellers to demonstrate deep subject-matter expertise and the ability to quickly customize a message to each customer.”

In the face of this, the pitch model is as outdated as a rotary telephone. These challenges call for a new set of sales skills, training, and tools. Training is no longer remedial, a strategy to bring underperformers up to some minimum standard. It’s now proactive, intended to create competitive advantage. Now, your marketing and sales practices have to look much more like those of the companies and people you’re selling to.

Who consumes the most training

You may know all this intellectually, in the abstract, but have you really thought about, embraced, and acted on this truth? Your clients have.

The most senior people within your clients are the ones spending the most time getting trained in new skills. A survey shows that “digital disruption has prompted a larger number senior executives -- those with 15 years of experience or more -- to go for upskilling and re-skilling and training in virtual learning. Middle and senior management personnel with 8-15 years and 15-20 years of experience are seeing the highest enrolments.”

A continuum, not an event

Too often, training is treated as an event. It has to be a continuum, hygiene, something you do every day. An hourlong session about biz dev skills at the firm retreat isn’t training. That’s education. It can produce awareness, understanding, perhaps attitude change. But not skill.

Training is the actual doing of the thing being learned. Continuously. Athletes, musicians, and actors practice constantly, improving their craft and forming reliable habits. That’s where skill comes from.

In combination with continuous education and training, coaching completes the learning trilogy. Coaches give you advice and feedback, offer strategic guidance, and create accountability.

If you’re serious about succeeding in the business environment that will shape the rest of your career, begin a continuous learning program today. Learn about your clients’ businesses. Learn marketing and selling skills. Learn how to apply them. Consult with any coaches available inside your firm. If your firm doesn’t have any, or they’re not available to you for any reason, hire one out of your pocket. It’s that important.

Mike O’Horo

Here’s wishing you a memorable Thanksgiving holiday and, if you’re traveling, safe and hassle-free travels.


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