Lawyers, Want More Clients? A Business Development Coach Says Sell Less, Listen More

Lawyers, Want More Clients? A Business Development Coach Says Sell Less, Listen More

This week I’m doing something a little different: featuring a guest blogger. Karen Kaplowitz is a lawyer and business development coach with The New Ellis Group. I met Karen at a law firm retreat years ago. Since then I have enjoyed reading the insightful and practical advice she publishes in her weekly newsletter, Monday Monday. Karen graciously shared this post with some helpful–and somewhat counter-intuitive–advice for lawyers on business development:

Business Development Tips from Karen Kaplowitz

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Karen Kaplowitz, The New Ellis Group

Stop Pitching and Start Discovering.  Many lawyers are busy lining up as many opportunities to “pitch” as possible, inside and outside their firms, and casting about for people who can give them business. If you are finding that clients and prospective clients are not rushing to set meetings for you to pitch them, consider these strategies instead, which focus on positioning yourself to discover what your clients need:

  • Don’t make giving presentations on your firm’s capabilities a top priority; do find reasons your clients have an impetus to invite you in.
  • Don’t go to meetings or lunch prepared to pitch, waiting for the opening to talk about your services.  Do go ready to ask probing questions about the company’s problems that might lead to work for your firm.
  • Don’t ask new colleagues in your firm which of their clients you can meet.  Pick one of your clients and discuss where the fit might be for your new colleague.
  • Don’t plan meetings to ask clients for more work; do plan meetings to get feedback so you don’t fall short of their expectations going forward.
  • Don’t rush to offer your opinions and solutions in conversations; listen carefully and encourage clients to elaborate on their struggles first.

Example:   Your client’s law department has changed significantly in the last year; senior lawyers you knew have retired; there were layoffs and consolidation; and most disturbingly, lawyers from a competitor law firm have infiltrated the law department.  A few times, you have offered the general counsel to bring in a team to make a presentation to insure the new people know your firm.  She always says “great” but never sets it up.

You try a different tack.  First, you ask for a new org chart of the law department, and bios if available. Then you ask when your people could meet the new in-house lawyers to hear from them what they are up against.  The general counsel warms to the idea of your investing in learning about her new team’s challenges and invites you to an all hands meeting.  You propose a meeting agenda for the client’s department heads to make short presentations on their priorities, with questions from your lawyers.  You help your team prepare to probe the new priorities.   At the end, the general counsel invites you to introduce your people and to stay for coffee.  You have planned your lawyers’ introductions of themselves to be very brief but targeted to the client’s most pressing needs. There is lively discussion when everyone mingles over coffee.

Are you willing to consider substituting “reverse presentations” from your clients instead of pressing to give presentations about your firm to clients?  Is the urgency to make this year more successful causing you to push too hard when active listening, probing, and connecting the dots are the better course of action?

This piece was originally published by Karen Kaplowitz of The New Ellis Group, a business development strategist and coach who works with lawyers all over the United States.  It is available in the archives of the Monday Monday newsletters.

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So, the next time you start to “pitch” your services to a potential client, remember Karen’s advice and think about “discovering” instead.

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Zach Wolfe (zwolfe@fleckman.com) is a Texas trial lawyer who handles non-compete and trade secret litigation at his firm Fleckman & McGlynn, PLLC.