Law in the 21st century: Am I a lawyer or a salesperson?
In this ever changing world, our clients’ demands are changing and so are our roles as lawyers.Once upon a time, clients deferred to our greater knowledge and came to us because we helped meet a need or solve a problem and once they were a client, they were a client for life.
However, clients’ expectations have changed as the world has become a much smaller place, thanks largely to the internet.There are currently around 11,000 law firms in Great Britain and, while that number may be declining, clients understand that there are more than enough to cater for every type of need. It is no longer necessarily the case that the magic circle firms are the lawyers of choice for the super wealthy, or the high street the place to go for your conveyancing or wills. It is also not necessarily true that there is less work to go around. Clients are buyers of goods and services and they have become very savvy at getting what they want. Whether it is price or service, never before have lawyers had to work so hard to bring in new clients and keep hold of existing ones.
The market is picking up, but law firms continue to talk about there being less work than there used to be. It will, however, be the case that some lawyers are losing more potential and existing clients than others.
In fact, what is happening is that, as the market has opened up, those businesses that have entered have been very good at selling themselves, whereas many established lawyers and law firms have been slow to adapt to this new way of doing business. So what does the 21st century lawyer have to do to keep their existing clients happy and win new ones?
1. Forget about price, focus on value
If what you are selling is ‘price’, then unless you are set up correctly to offer your services cheaply, you are just going to have to work harder to bring in the same money, let alone increase your turnover. You will soon find yourself on the fast train to stress and burnout. The legal profession is No. 1 at selling itself short so as competition increased, prices went down and many clients were more than happy to accept this, even though they didn’t actually ask for it. All this has led to is the decline of small law firms as they continue to be pushed out of the market. And it happens because lawyers have either forgotten or do not know how to sell what they do.
2. Know your competition
If you don’t already know who they are, then do some research and find out. Whether it is location, practice area or prestige, make a list. Then write down what makes you different. This isn’t a complicated process and works whether you are a sole practitioner or a magic circle firm. Take an A4 piece of paper and make two columns: the first should be headed ‘Features’ and under this you should list everything that makes your firm different to your competitors. Five is good, ten would be amazing. However, it is the second column that is most important and is headed ‘Advantages to client’. As you go through your ‘Features’ column, ask yourself the following question: “So what?” A feature is only any good if it benefits the client, so if being the oldest law firm in the area offers no advantage to the client it is not going to convince them to either stay with you or leave their existing lawyer.
3. Get to know your clients and their needs
You were born with two ears and one mouth, so start using them in those proportions. If you don’t know your clients, their businesses and their needs (both personal and commercial), then how can you possibly give them the best advice. People love talking about themselves and business people love talking about their business, so listen to what they have to say. Make notes and sooner or later you will find something that is stopping them from reaching the next level.
4. Knowledge isn’t enough
Clients know that you know what you’re doing – or you’d have been caught out by now. And, as lawyers, we all have – shall we say – a healthy self-confidence. The problem is that people don’t buy services like law, they ‘buy’ people, so not only do you have to get to know your clients, you have to learn how to connect with them. That means being adaptable. If you’re a talker and your client likes to get straight to the point, don’t go into detail about your weekend and the nice dinner you had last night – get straight to the point. If your client prefers the bigger picture to the finer detail, don’t give them an hour of in-depth analysis, give them what they want. Remember, they are the client, so being more like them will help with their confidence and build the rapport between you both. Because if you can’t connect with your client, they will find someone who can.
Business development is the art of selling and lawyers cannot leave it to others to bring the work to their desks because clients will not stand for it. They need to get to know their lawyer, who will become part of a team of trusted advisers. Those lawyers that have figured this out are thriving.
Selling isn’t a bad thing to do, it’s the best thing to do!