21 January 2009
The coming 12 months are set to make for a difficult year for the British legal industry. The intensifying downturn will inevitably lead to an increase in competition for business, whilst clients are becoming more and more selective of the law firms they choose to do business with. The ability to win new business, therefore, becomes not just ancillary to the life of a lawyer, but central, with smaller panels being an example of this.
Law firms must be able to provide their lawyers with the right tools for maximising opportunities to win new business. Selling business, however, is an area that many lawyers, no matter how technically brilliant, have trouble with. When training at law firms, all too often I see lawyers try to communicate far too much information with potential clients and “sell”. Unable to remove themselves from their role as a lawyer, they discuss complex and esoteric details and focus too much on what they think is impressive, rather than what is relevant.
A lawyer should remember that law is a service, not a product and that a client buys into you, not just what you offer. Your competence is largely given. You have to sell yourself. Rapport, therefore, is paramount, so you should try to build relationships with people long before you pitch for business.
At a pitch, it is important lawyers present themselves as a team. All too often, lawyers appear fragmented – worsened when the leader introduces ‘his team’. Instead, the team should introduce themselves and instead of listing what you do, explain explicitly why you are relevant to the client and what you can offer them. According to Nadine Herrmann, an associate at Allen & Overy: “Two things came out very clearly: firstly, how important it is for the lawyers to work as a team and secondly not dominating the meeting ourselves and listening to what the client has to say.”
The most important thing lawyers should do is explore their clients’ issues. Lawyers often reel off facts about the firm: where they rank in tables; the locations of the international offices; the amount of partners, etc which are all well and good, but how does this relate to the client’s business in hand? Questions are much more powerful and by asking them, the client feels listened to, rather than sold to. When lawyers find out what is important to the client, they learn, the clients learn, and they take away with them the feeling that the lawyers were genuinely interested. You have built value into your proposition. Price, therefore, becomes less of an issue.
Another mistake that lawyers are often guilty of is not listening to the client and insisting on following their own agenda. Instead, listen to the client and use what you hear to inform your next question. Continue to do this until your questioning has developed the client’s perception sufficiently to really want and vale what you offer.
What to remember:
• Instead of doggedly following your own agenda, start by asking questions of the client and let their answers inform the next question.
• Only sell what you need to sell – yourselves, not legal principles or impressive past deals, cases or contracts.
• Beware of technology. Elaborate computer presentations and a never-ending series of slides, for example, can be a barrier to connecting with your client.
• Credential documents are often far too detailed, confusing, and contain too much irrelevant information. They should be kept short and be tailored to meet the client’s needs.
• Be positive and act as their advisors. Avoid being diffident and prefacing your comments with statements such as: “If we are appointed”. Speak as if you have got the instruction.
Lastly, pitches are not just opportunities to close deals, but a chance to establish relationships. Therefore, the aim is to leave the client feeling good about meeting you and positive about doing business with you in the future.
Jack Downton is managing director of The Influence Business