In law firms lawyers are the prime revenue-generating asset. As such, using them in non-fee-earning roles when there are more effective and cheaper alternatives makes little commercial sense.
Yet while the past two decades have seen the increased recruitment of professionals to run and manage firms and their core functions, sales has been left to lawyers on the premise that law is a relationship-based business and that those delivering services are best placed to develop these, especially where advice is complex and technical.
In the sales industry it usually requires an intensive six-month training programme to turn a graduate into an effective salesperson. Law firms commonly invest a fraction of this in developing their senior lawyers’ selling skills – training is usually limited to a three-day short course and perhaps one or two half-day refresher sessions at most.
It is little surprise, then, that lawyers are at best enthusiastic amateurs, with results to match.
That said, if sufficient time is invested in learning and practising sales skills, lawyers can become effective salespeople. However, for this approach to be effective it requires an investment in infrastructure and systems to coordinate sales activities across practice groups, offices and countries.
Most law firms are nowhere near this point, which is probably due to the size of investment required and also the cultural difficulty of taking lawyers away from client-facing work. That said, sales can be made to work firmwide in this way, but client acquisition will be very expensive.
A solution to this is to engineer a sales process specifically for law firms. Starting from scratch the process should:
• reduce lawyer involvement to a bare minimum, enabling them to focus more of their time on fee-earning; and
• be structured in such a way as to remove the need for expensive training.
So what part of sales exactly should lawyers be involved with? Quite simply, the answer is as little as possible. While they are a key part of the process, it is very much a case of using them as cost-effectively and strategically as possible, namely by:
• working with the marketing and finance departments to help identify the most potentially profitable targets/potential clients where their firm has a real and definable competitive advantage;
• meeting with the target/potential client – this should be managed by a trained sales specialist, but the attending lawyer must know what is expected and be fully briefed; and
• follow up meetings – these are often shared with the marketing team, but it is essential that a strong relationship is built between the lawyer and client to close the sale.
Outside this, all the other parts of the process, including the research and the appointment setting, are handled by the marketing team or are outsourced.
The proof is in the pudding, and law firms that have used this approach have seen dramatic increases in the number of sales meetings with blue-chip organisations and subsequent new business, much of it multi-service. Clients are won in a far more cost-effective manner and a key benefit of this approach is that the rate of return is easily measurable. This enables an evaluation of sales against other marketing and business development activities, which helps prioritise resources and maximise value for money.
Having a sales process that not only produces multi-service blue-chip clients that provide profitable, long-term income streams, but is also more cost-effective to manage, certainly has implications for profitability. And with the Legal Services Bill on the horizon, this could well affect a law firm’s attractiveness and potential valuation.