The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Lawyers spend a lot of time studying to pass their bar exams. After graduating, they become white-collar galley slaves, shackled to legal partners’ teams and doing the grunt work for years before they are allowed on deck. As they move up the ranks, they begin to interact with clients. After a few more years, they actually have to go out and secure clients. The big dog in the firm is the rainmaker who brought in the clients that paid the most money. Perhaps one day these new graduates can become the big dog—if they develop the right skills.

Lawyers are proud of their achievements, their study, their knowledge of the law, their brains.  They want clients to appreciate all of this and, as a consequence, give them work. This is the “I deserve it” school of sales. Knowledge is valuable. I have knowledge, therefore you need me to help you sort out these various issues you are facing. I don’t have to be persuasive, charming, attractive, engaging, or likeable—because I have what you need.

Once upon a time, that was the way of the legal profession. A bunch of lawyer nerds serving up legal rocket science to companies. Times change, and now there are lots and lots of lawyers all vying for their share of the pie. The clients have also become better educated, and are more discerning—particularly when it comes to questioning the bills they receive.

Faced with such a proliferation of buying choices, what do clients do? They do the same as for all purchases they make: They apply the “Know, Like, and Trust” rule. To know the law firm means to have a trusted confidant provide some testimonial-style advice about how they performed in the past, how reliable they are, and their degree of expertise in a particular area. If there is no track record that the client can judge, this “know” process is the equivalent of the cold call in sales. I don’t recall seeing any cold calling modules in the legal curriculum at university.

The “like” part is the legal equivalent of a doctor’s “bedside manner.” In most advanced countries, doctors have had to become skilled in handling people. To greet a patient properly, the doctor must make them feel relaxed, assure them of the wisdom of the diagnosis, and reinforce the trust the patient has placed in them.

This is a great metaphor for the legal profession because all of these same steps make for the “like” and “trust” results on the lawyer’s scorecard. The diagnosis component requires two great skills: listening and questioning. Asking well designed questions to uncover the client’s needs is Selling 101.

The delivery of the solution requires great skill to engage the trust of the client. The client may not be an expert in the finer points of the law on a specific issue, so the ability to explain complex things in a way the buyer can understand and relate to is a fundamental sales skill. Technical experts, such as lawyers, often get excited about the details and start explaining these with great gusto.

This is what we call explaining the features of the solution in the sales world. If lawyers stop there, believing their job is done, they are in grave error. Instead, the features of the solution require that respective benefits be attached, the application of those benefits explained, and the impact they will have on business made clear. To sustain the argument, evidence of where this has worked elsewhere needs to be marshalled.

Was there a varsity module on handling client hesitations and objections? These are part and parcel of the sales world. Are lawyers experts on what is necessary to convince buyers to select their recommendations?

Lawyers are all in sales; they just don’t know it. They should avoid saying the wrong things, using the wrong approaches, and remaining underskilled and undereducated in dealing with buyers. These days the buyer of legal services has a surfeit of choices. They will gravitate to those they know, like, and trust. It’s time for lawyers to realize they need sophisticated sales training.

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Are lawyers experts on what is necessary to convince buyers to select their recommendations?