Legal Market Landscape ReportForget a hero, the legal industry needs a game changer. We’re continuing to operate like it’s still 1999, and, let’s face it, the world has moved on, yet our business model is still, fundamentally, unchanged.

In my 20 years as a legal marketing executive, as well as a very vocal member of the law firm and business of law ecosystems, I have watched as the different disruptors have risen, only to see the skeptical lawyer mindset argue away its value and potential impact. All the while, market share is slipping away, for both the lawyers who represent “PeopleLaw” and the corporate firms who represent “Organizational Clients” (AKA “consumer lawyers” and “AmLaw 100” firms).

Yesterday, in the LME group, peer and colleague Dave Bruns shared Bill Henderson‘s “Legal Market Landscape Report,” which was commissioned by the State Bar of California. It is an important read. So important that I will share here with you a highlighted copy with my first-round of notes. Continue Reading Is the “game changer” for the legal industry finally here?

I’m reading a new survey from ALM, New Partners Ambivalent About Rainmaking, Survey Finds, and am aghast at the naïveté of the respondents. Apparently, 49% of new partners surveyed don’t think that their ability to make rain is a deciding factor in their being promoted to partner (equity or non-equity).

Asked how important they think certain factors were in their promotion, 84.4 percent of respondents said they believe they were promoted according to their ability to perform first-class legal work, and 60 percent cited the strength of their commitment to the firm. (Respondents were allowed to choose more than one answer.) Just under half—49 percent—of new partners said that their ability to bring in new clients was an important factor in their promotion, although equity partners saw developing clients of their own as somewhat more important than nonequity partners did. “Associates are not adequately aware that they effectively need their own book of business of approximately $750,000 to $1 million to be a partner at a large law firm,” one respondent wrote in the survey. “Even if an associate is promoted, they are destined to be unsuccessful as a partner without this size of a book.”

Wow. Without clients, you know the people who write big checks to the firm, there is no firm. Clients do not appear out of nothing. Those relationships have to be developed over time, years actually, then maintained and hopefully built. Institutional clients no longer exist. You cannot make partner and expect — poof! — originating credits miraculously appear. And to the 84% who think the ability to do first-class legal work is what got you promoted, let me clue you in on something: The ability to do first-class work is stipulated; you would have been fired years before if you could not do so. And while business development might not be the most comfortable of tasks for an individual, it is very important to a firm that their equity partners bring in new business. A law firm cannot exist on service partners alone (unless you hire a Pete). Business development (sales) is not a talent many of us are born with, but it can be learned and developed over time for many (not all). But it first must be engrained into the culture of the firm. Too many firms do not support business development, but expect the results. There is no training or coaching to learn the skills necessary to accomplish the tasks. There are no rewards, in the form of hourly requirement credits, for business development. Too often the hurdles to get approval become insurmountable, and I haven’t even touched on the compensation system. How timely that Dave Bruns and I will be presenting next week at the ALM West Coast Law Firm Marketing & Business Development Leadership Forum in San Francisco: The Total Package: Business Development Integration for Success. This is a topic that is near and dear to the business development teams across the country, and we hope to discuss what firms need to do to support the success of their business development programs.  

Thank you to guest blogger Dave Bruns, Director of Client Service, Farella Braun + Martel, for providing his insights into “When do you ask for the business?”

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Maybe the simplest but toughest question a lawyer will ever ask, “How do I get your business?” The Legal Marketing Association Listserve was ablaze with this topic recently.

The original post proffered a comment from a “marketing executive seated in a plane next to a lawyer” (sounds like the introduction to a bad joke). The seatmate told this lawyer that the right time to ask for work is at the outset of a meeting. According to the seatmate, this approach maintains the appropriate focus for the meeting – as if business executives will take a meeting without a defined purpose.

Sparked by the airplane-seated marketing executive’s comments, I, along with several prominent business development consultants and in-house professionals, chimed in. Virtually everyone suggested that asking for work is not appropriate at the beginning of a meeting. Several, including myself, suggested that asking for work is never appropriate until work is actually on the table. Let me explain …

Buying legal services for most corporate clients is a very sensitive exercise. Each time an in-house counsel makes a selection, they are putting their bonus and job on the line. Pressuring an in-house counsel is inappropriate, and they won’t select a lawyer that pressures them to buy. High pressure sales, often referred to as one-off sales, may be appropriate for a stick of gum or even a car purchase, when a long-term relationship is not essential to the purchaser’s success. However, the purchase of legal services requires a deep, trusting relationship and, in many cases, a clearly defined scope of work, approach and budget.

In graduate school, I studied the seven stages of the buying process (awareness, knowledge, consideration, engagement, satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy). If a lawyer jumps into “the ask” at the awareness stage, the potential client has not yet developed the trust required and will say “no” or, worse, show the attorney the door and stop responding to email and phone communications. If the lawyer takes the time and uses successful, proven marketing levers to move their prospect through the buying process, learning about their business, culture, approach, etc., when they reach the consideration phase (i.e., work is on the table and the lawyer is considered capable to handle it), it’s appropriate to offer a pricing proposal or potential scope of work for a project. Ideally, the lawyer can skip the proposal stage because the client asks for an engagement letter.

I counsel my lawyers to focus their energy on surfacing work and demonstrating that they can assist or one of their partners can assist. This takes time, and in many cases, the buying cycle for a lawyer can be six to 12 months – or more. The time period can be reduced with better questions, frequent touches and by ensuring lawyers fill their funnel/pipeline with actual buyers of the work that the lawyer wants at the fee they want to charge. Third parties can also speed people through the buying process; however, everyone, regardless of what they’re buying, needs to start at awareness and end at engagement – hopefully moving further into satisfaction and the advocacy stage.

As a business development consultant to lawyers, I ask them, “when aren’t you in a pitch meeting?” After a lawyer understands that everything they do for a client is part of the pitch for the first or next piece of work, they quickly realize the first action in the business development process is not asking for the work. I was not privy to the conversation with the seatmate, but I am sure I would have pushed back on his suggestion to jump to “the ask” because it is always better to stage “the ask” in a manner that ensures the answer will be “yes.” Until that time, “the ask” is inappropriate and could even harm a budding relationship.