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Commercial skills for lawyers

  • Reading time:5 mins read

Law firm partners are not usually experts in the hiring process, that is, in how to “help” potential clients choose their firm’s services. Perhaps that is because historically they have tended to underestimate sales, focusing instead almost exclusively on “taking care of business”. Indeed, the legal industry does not require “selling” so much as “helping to hire”.

Times have changed. In recent years, we have been immersed in a hypercompetitive market in which the client calls the shots. Still, the majority of lawyers have yet to adjust to this reality, making themselves prime candidates for “being left behind”.

Firms also lack lawyers who effectively manage their personal brands, both online and off. Personal branding is their positioning, their reputation and their level of influence. Some firms neglect their lawyers’ personal branding for fear of losing them to the competition or to headhunters, even though it is clear that a professional with a prestigious personal brand and solid commercial skills can contribute to the business’ development. This also suggests that only a handful of firms actually create the necessary conditions to retain talent. If they fostered loyalty among their talent, perhaps they would not be so fearful of losing it.

Most firms also do little to manage their social perception. For example, what is their clients’ perception of the firm? Do they think that there is a high demand for the firm’s services and that you have a select portfolio of clients, or that you need them to hire you?

This is where positive influence comes into play. Positive influence is the ability to convince potential clients to think or act a certain way based on a win-win approach that benefits the firm and provides added value for the client.

In the world of sales, to influence is to create predisposition and desire in the potential client so that he or she trusts our firm and hires us. It essentially comes down to influencing someone with an objective need for advice and whom the firm has the capacity to advise well, based on honesty and sincerity. To stimulate the client’s desire, it is important to know what he or she is really hiring from the firm. Lawyers, like doctors, are in the market of clients’ reassurance or “peace of mind”. What the client is really looking for is peace of mind, reassurance. All of the services and benefits that the client receives from the firm converge in this great desire.

During an interview with a potential client, if you want to create a predisposition that will lead to hiring, first you must be to his or her liking; second you must empathize with him or her; and third you must establish rapport (based on humility, adapting to his or her style) to instill a sense of trust. This process of “connecting” may be approached intuitively or, better yet, with conscientious knowledge of the key role that observation, active listening, understanding of gestural language and asking the right questions to drive the sales interview play in the process, thus enabling you to shift from empathy and rapport to assertiveness.

The reality is that only a few competent lawyers project a sense of security throughout the hiring process. From a sales perspective, most lawyers are “complacent or obsequious” advisors who do not know how to help the client choose their firm’s services and who may end up advising the potential client for free. Not a bad business…for some potential clients.

Fear is the greatest obstacle to success. To have greater commercial success, it is necessary to rectify some personality traits, chief among which are:

  1. Ineffective listening
  2. Verbosity
  3. Insecurity

Talking too much tends to generate objections (gestural and verbal) and makes it easier for negativity to arise during the interaction with the potential client. It is advisable to talk little and to listen actively, using the right questions to drive a focused conversation in which we can help the potential client discover the benefits to be gained from our services. This helps avoid objections.

The most common insecurities tend to surface when it comes to negotiating fees. Other insecurities have to do with “establishing initial contact with potential clients”, “giving up too soon and not pursuing a potential client”, “not knowing how to drive a meeting with a potential client who may change lawyers”, “a sense of appearing too young” or “difficulty when negotiating with financial directors”.

With respect to financial directors, do you really know what they are looking for and how to convince them, for example, that your service proposal is more cost-effective, even if it is not the cheapest?

What do you need to generate more business? First and foremost, you need to believe that you can do more to help clients to hire you; second, you need to train yourself on how to do it. Learn and improve.

© Francesc Domínguez, legal marketing and personal branding consultant, www.francescdominguez.com