Why Sales is a Law Firm Management Skill
The best lawyers who build a successful law practice never forget the importance of leveraging their sales. This refers to their ability to do what other attorneys are doing, as good as or better than they are doing it, and to profit from these efforts.
I have spent quite some time discussing the concept of sales and the sales process that builds on effective U.S. law firm management. In one Million Dollar Marketing article, for instance, I spoke about a very successful criminal defense attorney whose practice of law focuses on traffic violations, DUI, and reckless driving. We dissected his lead generation direct mail piece and we identified that the key challenge for this American lawyer was too much success. What? Too much success in your legal practice? That’s not possible, right? Well, it can be and if you ask our successful client, he’ll tell you it was for him.
Here’s the deal. Our client was so busy carrying out his legal profession, meeting with clients, all day, every day. As they came in (over the phone) not by appointment, he literally couldn’t take a single day off or it would have cost him thousands of dollars from potential clients. Success, in a way, was too much. And this is why effective US law firm management skills are crucial, even for the largest law firms, regardless of law practice.
Taking on the Sales Role
Now let's get back to our client, owner of one of the top law firms in the area. The good news for him is he successfully created a sales machine, but the bad news was he was stuck turning the cranks.
Now, as I was logging on to my email according to my pre-calendared time to do so, I read this one email from him providing me with an update of his progress so far. The email started off by saying he hadn’t gotten around to running the ad for the salesperson to replace him (not a suggested strategy of mine) but he had an attorney who was looking to take on more responsibility and swore she could handle the sales process. This, by the way, was good news. He really wanted an attorney to manage this process but he’d been unable to find one who could perform. So, he gave her a shot. Now mind you, they are only a short time into this process but here is an excerpt from his email to me:
“We are a great team. On Friday, we did $8,050 in new fees (probably about our 25th best day in the past years). Yesterday we established a new record for fees in a day at $11,500. Today we're going to crush that record by about $2,000.”
So what’s the point? It is possible to replace yourself in the sales role. And a management consultant can tell you how.
Who Needs a Sales Team?
Many lawyers think that it is about firm size. It is not. Whether you are a small or large law firm, it is possible to find an attorney who is going to sell and it is possible to become free from the chains that bind you in your law business. Even super lawyers need a break. But you must take action. Yes, you may fail the first time you try it, but don’t let that dissuade you, keep at it. In all fields of law, perseverance is a mark of a good US lawyer. Keep hiring, keep training, keep measuring. Be diligent in your craft, you’ll be happy you did.
Here’s what law firm analyst Richard James has to say about failing during bad days:
Don’t let the bad ones ruin it for the good ones. Richard Parker, a mentor of mine, once told me that to me and I’ve never forgotten it. I think that’s a really big point not to miss. I had this client before, a top lawyer, who told me they had worked with a consultant before and they paid her several thousands of dollars to help them find the perfect phone person to manage their unconverted leads. The consultant did the job, found the right person, then went on her way. Six months later the perfect telephone person quit. It doesn’t matter why, she just did. Now my client was left with a hole in their bank account and a hole in their staff and worse yet, a tarnished view of the phone sales role. Which, for lawyers, incidentally costs the most.
Giving legal advice for legal issues is one thing, managing a law firm is another. The key is to have a short memory when sales people let you down. Unfortunately, sales people come and sales people go. Sometimes they move on to bigger and better things, sometimes they simply burn out, sometimes they opt out and we have to invite them to leave. Regardless if you are covering intellectual property law, bankruptcy, personal injury law, estate planning probate, or family law, be ready for it. Even to the best law firms, it can happen. But don’t let it stop you from grabbing your freedom. Having a sales team who can sell on your behalf is a very powerful position to be in.
Using Sales to Spur Law Firm Growth
So, if you want to be a leading law firm, should you hire an attorney like our featured client did, maybe? It’s my preference not to. First, since I know most salespeople eventually move on, I’d like to avoid having them move on with a caseload of your clients seeking legal services. I have plenty of new clients who hire attorneys as salespeople anyway and they understand the risks. That’s all I’m asking. Second, I find many young attorneys who think they are already the best lawyers in America and are unwilling to do the work necessary. Most of you will not have a constant lead flow like what our client does and the sales people will be required to connect with their unconverted leads or help with collections to make up for the lost time. I find young attorneys reluctant to take such action.
Personally, regardless of areas of law, I prefer using non-attorneys to sell on your behalf. One of the drawbacks to using non-attorneys is compensation. Any salesperson worth their salt wants a commission. In business-law matters, we simply can’t do that cleanly. So, we have to build compensation packages that are ‘creative’ and follow the American bar association guidelines. And then we have to ‘sell’ the salesman on the plan.
Usually, this plan works for big law firms. But when I find owners attempting to use the loophole of not paying the sales person a commission as the right to underpay them, they lose their sales people faster than they should. Just because losing a sales associate is going to be a natural part of the business process doesn’t mean we should accelerate it.
Keep in mind that being top lawyers and handling rigorous firm management in the US are two different things. The strengths of a practitioner doing legal research and a sales associate doing evaluations are different, and you need both.
In all areas of practice, pay people what they are worth. That number will vary from practice area to practice area and from firm to firm. Take our successful client's firm for example. His sales rep does not need to cold call prospects, they do not need to follow up with unconverted leads (they are so busy talking to prospects all day) they don’t need too many outbound calls at all. In the world of sales, this is akin to shooting ducks in a barrel. They should be paid a decent salary, plus a bonus plan that supports the firm goals. But I wouldn’t be compensating her the same way I compensate my sales reps or sales reps of firms who have to do all those things. Any major law firm that wants to get ahead of a competitor must consider this.
I’m so very excited for you. Go find a sales associate, train them and measure them diligently and start living the top-tier life you’ve dreamed about. Work towards becoming one of the biggest law firms, one salesperson at a time. If you want to have your best month ever, become a professional salesperson. The rewards are ongoing. If you want to know how to become good in sales, contact our legal management consultant Richard James or schedule a 1-on-1 law firm consulting to get your customized practice growth plan.