Thursday, March 14, 2019

How to Choose a Specialty Practice Area


I coach lawyers and am often asked how a lawyer with several practice specialty areas should decide which specialty area they should focus on for marketing and business development purposes. Most lawyers know that a specialty practice area can do marketing wonders. And many have multiple areas that they could legitimately claim experience and expertise. But your knowledge and experience isn’t all you should consider. Demand, work sources and competitive rivalry are also factors which will influence whether or not you can get traction in the specialty area.  

For instance, I recently coached a securities litigation lawyer who had particularly strong experience in five areas. He wanted to figure out the two or three that he should focus on and asked my advice on how to narrow the selection- without giving up potential work in any one of the areas.
I suggest attorneys rank each area on four different factors: Experience and Expertise; Demand; Referral Source Flow; and Competitive Rivalry.

Experience and expertise. This is easy. How many matters have you handled in the area, what were the results, what was unique about each and what expertise did you gain in each case. You should be able to demonstrate experience and expertise through case studies, client names, client comments (testimonials) and the content, the articles and thought leadership you can post related to each specialty area. If you can align lots of objective evidence of your experience and expertise, give it a high ranking.

Demand: Probably one of the most important criteria is demand. If the demand is soft, it shouldn’t be an area of focus. Look at the current and your projections for demand in the area. Identify the reasons for the future demand by listing the emerging issues that will lead to work in the area or by citing the specific forces (economics; competition; legislation; etc.) that will cause the future demand. Also name the sources of that demand. List the lawyers or sources of referrals for that work. Give demand a high rank is you see both strong current demand and strong future demand.

Referral Source Flow: Next, look at who in your network are in positions in which they will likely come across cases of this type to refer to you. These are other attorneys, referral or affiliate networks or people who are in positions which may have visibility in matters developing in the area. Rank it high if you get regular and consistent referrals from these sources and you feel educational efforts directed at these sources would continue to feed opportunities.

Competitive Rivalry: Lastly, look at the other lawyers who do work in the specialty practice subject area both in your geographic area, who you know in affected industries and the firms with strong reputations or internet presence in the area. Rank the competitive rivalry high if there are numerous respectable competitors in the specialty area.

Use your judgment. The ranking system is meant simply as a guide to help you think through which specialty practice area has the most potential. 

Thursday, March 7, 2019

The Corporate Transactional Lawyer's Non-selling Sales Technique


H
ave you ever wondered why a company fails to engage a lawyer (any lawyer) to fix a problem for which they clearly need a solution? Or, why a company doesn’t follow through on an easy opportunity you’ve presented to them? Have you wondered why you win some engagements quickly while others take forever to get signed? Have you ever suspected that there are politics at work going on inside the company that is keeping you from getting the engagement?

If you’ve been active in business development in the corporate legal industry, you’ve had these questions and experiences.

Selling is hard. Brutally hard. Caring, nice, smart, experienced, business savvy lawyers who proactively reach out to well qualified prospects with proven solutions still fail to close new engagements nine times out of ten. The questions above point to the frustration of selling. But they also provide a clue to an overlooked part of the legal business development process, the legal services buying process.

Legal services buyers have their own unique internal dynamics that must be addressed before they are ready to begin the legal services buying process. In some cases, and with certain practice areas, the process that a company goes through to be ready to buy a solution to an issue, problem or opportunity (IPO) occurs quickly. But in numerous other situations and legal subject areas, the process occurs slowly, in fits and starts, or forces company decision makers through a great deal of internal wrangling and politicking.


Businesses make decisions to hire outside counsel in ways that are unique to each individual business. A company's decisions can change course, stop suddenly, speed up or switch to new partners without warning. We assume that companies who are seeking help with their legal problems are ready to engage the lawyer when they find one that suits their needs and can solve their problems. But for a lot of selling situations, that’s simply not the case. Buyers sometimes use these sales discussions to gather information, think through their own internal challenges and gauge risk and opportunity.

As outside counsel, we don’t have a clear view of this internal company decision-making process. But if we did, it would explain why some engagements are signed quickly while others drag on unsigned; why some work comes from people we hardly know; why you only get small scraps of work and not the big deals; why a company doesn’t respond to genuine offers of assistance or why companies don’t seem to understand what the company actually needs in terms of legal assistance. Most importantly, a view inside the company would expose the myriad of political calculations, business decisions, and historical learnings that shapes a company’s readiness to engage outside counsel.

Not all legal work comes with the same set of motivations and objectives. Some legal work is non-discretionary. That is, the company has few options but to engage outside counsel to assist with the matter. Examples of these situations include ‘bet-the-company’ litigation, corporate filings, regulatory work or investigations. The impetus for this work comes from forces bearing on the company which gives the company little choice in how it will proceed. And in these cases, it must typically act quickly.

On the other hand, some work is discretionary. Sometimes even optional. That is, the project must be prioritized and assigned resources in the context of the business’ other pressing needs and opportunities. Outside counsel’s ability to understand these internal priorities and strategies are limited and often distorted.

​Because of this, legal business development training does not address the earliest phase of the sale funnel, the phase which occurs inside the company before it has decided to engage outside counsel. Conventional training ignores the company’s buying decision process. In doing so, several important opportunities are missed and questions left unanswered which, not only makes us less effective, but inhibits our ability to learn and improve selling methods.

THE BUYING DECISION PROCESS



The complexity of decisions drives the speed in which a company can make a decision. Companies facing complex choices must decide on the strategic importance to the company of the problem or opportunity and tease out the breadth and complexity of the implications any potential solution will have on the company, its operations, customers, partners and resources. As an example, an offer to revise clauses in a technical contract may appear necessary, even simple. But the consequences (or unintended consequences) of revising those clauses can have far reaching affects on the company. Both the lawyer and company stakeholders must carefully consider those implications before they can engage someone to revise those clauses.  

When lawyers call on their business contacts, they don’t typically consider the internal dynamics and criteria that must align to be ready to find and vet solutions and providers. Without this internal alignment, even the most rational and simple decisions can languish in company politics, analysis or budgeting delays. The saying ‘paralysis by analysis’ speaks to this very problem as it describes the competing interests inside the company trying to negotiate consensus and direction.

One assumption of conventional business development training is that lawyers have little influence on the buying-decision process. Instead, they focus on the buying process itself, assume all legal needs require solutions and have buy in, and apply a selling framework without regard to where the company is in their internal negotiations about a solution. That’s a mistake. But take heart. It is a mistake made across numerous industries which sell their dynamic solutions into highly matrixed corporations.

Decisions whether or not to address an issue, fix a problem or seize an opportunity must be balanced against the available resources, the risks and priorities of the company. From the company’s perspective, those that see little risk in a situation or who find the implications of an issue narrow in scope may not be motivated to act. Conversely, problems which have strategic or existential importance for the company and narrow, well understood implications are more likely to be dealt with quickly. Issues or matters which are both strategically important and which have complex and wide-ranging implications for the company will require careful study and consideration. Conventional sales programs don’t start with this understanding and instead apply the same sales formula regardless of how the company may view the problem, issue or opportunity relative to its goals and strategies.

It may seem obvious that companies require each legal need to achieve an ROI or make a ‘business case’ in order to move forward on the project. It is not so obvious that lawyers can help in this process. But they can. And in doing so, they can significantly increase their closing ratios and reduce the number of other lawyers they compete with for that work.


A new selling method offers these and other benefits for professional selling situations and is especially relevant for corporate or transactional lawyers. Decision-Strategy Selling™ is a complement to selling skills training programs and helps attorneys better understand, facilitate and navigate the prospect’s engagement decision and selection process thereby improving the attorney’s selling process. It gives lawyers a framework to better adjust their sales pursuit strategies to accommodate the unique buying experience of their practice area and of their target company prospect. And it teaches lawyers how to stay 'tuned in' to the company's engagement decision process showing them how to shift roles from decision coaching, consultative selling or contractor negotiation roles to move engagements to signature. In most cases, Decision-Strategy Selling™ does not replace the need for consultative selling skills training. It guides lawyers in ow to refine their pursuits in real time to maximize their selling effectiveness and close engagements faster. However, the method is frequently effective in winning engagements without the need to advance to a consultative selling role because, in coaching company representatives through their internal decision process, they become trusted advisers with unequaled knowledge of the unique cultural hallmarks and operational needs of the company. In this sense, it is a form of selling that doesn’t require ‘selling’.

Lawyers who learn Decision-Strategy Selling™ techniques earn trusted adviser more quickly because they learn how to facilitate decisions and avoid using consultative persuasion techniques until it is appropriate. They learn decision coaching techniques that reveal more about the company’s operations, internal relationships and strategic priorities than lawyers who only use consultative selling skills or research tools. And they gain the insights required to formulate pitches that closely align with company needs and priorities, often times eliminating the company’s need for competitive bids. Most importantly, lawyers learn to avoid creating ‘sales pressure’ that leads to adversarial rather than authentic relationships.

Law firms are not known for their business development savviness, let alone their ability to innovate sales methods. But Decision-Strategy Selling™ provides a methodology that is a natural extension of a lawyer’s innate capabilities such as questioning and discovery skills. And creates a new awareness of the phases of selling and the best techniques to navigate the sales process.
Conventional selling skills training suggests building authentic relationships as a condition for sales opportunities. But the byproduct of ‘selling’ is sales pressure which is destructive to authentic and trusted relationships. Decision-Strategy Selling™ eliminates the sales pressure that forms in consultative selling situations because it focuses the lawyer on coaching skills, skills that enhance relationships rather than challenging the relationship.


Decision-Strategy Selling™ provides a simple methodology for quickly evaluating the complexity of a legal services selling situation and enables lawyers to fine tune their business development strategies. It explains the buying decision process and teaches lawyers new skills and questioning techniques that will enable them to move through the three main phases of a legal selling situation more effectively. Lastly, lawyers who use the method will gain greater confidence in business development abilities through a heightened awareness of company buying decision process and their role in sales conversations and the pitch process.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Cultural Fit is Leading Us Further From a Solution to The Lateral Hiring Problem.


A recent report by ALM Legal Intelligence provides some eye-popping statistics on the performance of lateral hires among the AmLaw 200. According to their latest research, lateral recruiting is a risky growth strategy. Laterals among the AmLaw 200 have as much as a 47% failure rate, are only 50% likely to stay five years and failed laterals cost the industry an estimated $2 billion a year! The report goes on to estimate that the average cost of acquiring a lateral partner in 2018 was $2.3 million, including one year of compensation, recruiter fees and other internal costs. Multi-year guarantees are even more expensive.

The research, based on interviews with law firm leaders, suggests that firms don’t do a good job of figuring out cultural fit. One law firm leader commented that “the group didn’t think about how these people would fit in,” As such, the report suggests that cultural fit needs to be amplified in the due diligence and integration processes.

Personality and culture are fuzzy concepts. What’s more likely is that the industry is struggling to identify the metrics which truly drive lateral success. It’s hard to imagine a lateral who brings the majority of their book of business to a new firm not fitting in. ‘Culture’ sound more like a explanation than a cause. With stakes so high, we need to understand the causes of failure and the drivers of success. A focus on ‘cultural fit’ as opposed to practice and client dynamics is leading us further from a solution to the lateral hiring challenge. Culture follows rainmaking. Not the other way around.

In my work with laterals, and as the creator and original co-author of the ALM Legal Intelligence Lateral Hiring Report in 2015, I’ve come to the conclusion that success is best predicted by the practice and client characteristics of the incoming lateral’s book of business. The industry needs a common set of metrics to evaluate the potential for client mobility. No due diligence process in any other industry would be considered complete without this analysis.

A whole new view of the viability of any candidate can be gained by examining the lateral’s client relationships; each client company’s likely risks and motivations for making a move; the cross-servicing depth and entrenchment characteristics; the economics and incentives available to encourage a move; the client company’s reliance on the lateral or other practice areas, among other criteria. The indicators of client mobility, while not yet scientific, do lend a degree of objectivity to the analysis. The above considerations are just a couple of the analysis points that need to be considered for a complete due diligence analysis. This type of analysis requires not only deeper, probing questions by the recruiter but an understanding of business fundamentals, business decision making processes and, to an extent, an investigative curiosity.

Further complicating our due diligence is the fact that what we look for in laterals is also, often times, the qualities that make it hardest for clients to switch firms. For instance, we look for laterals with a large book of originations. A large book is often the result of laterals who have cross sold numerous services into their client companies. That’s a good thing, right? Yes. It’s terrific for the firm who enjoys those deep ties throughout the firm. But not so good for a firm looking to buy those ties. Each additional practice area divides the chance that client company will follow the lateral. A single use practice is much more mobile than a practice which has tentacles into several different practice areas. This common-sense reality is rarely included in the analysis or due diligence process. But it is the reason that groups of laterals are more successfully lifted out than a sole lateral is from a firm. Shouldn’t these factors be included in the Lateral Partner Questionnaire and in candidate interviews?

Who conducts the due diligence interview can also a problem. We might like to think that Partners are the best practice and company diagnosticians but that’s simply not the case. In my years of coaching the most senior partners in the largest law firms in the world, I’ve found that lawyers often have a very difficult time seeing the structural challenges inherent in their practices. They have an even harder time identifying the best strategy to overcome those challenges. The value I bring is as an objective, informed outside observer who can provide the perspective that can help them cut to the strategic focus they need. Why would we think they could adopt the diagnostics necessary for a thorough lateral due diligence process of a potential partner? They don’t. And it is not practical to think they can. The potentiality of a partnership creates its own biases and blindness.

Many firms view the challenge of lateral recruiting as a challenge of finding a supply of qualified candidates. That’s only part of the problem and really a problem that should be dealt with only after a sound vetting strategy is already in place. Fewer candidates that actually work out and meet revenue expectations is a better course of action because it has the added benefit of improving client satisfaction, an enhancing the firm’s recruiting reputation and improving the firm’s investment ROI.
The due diligence process I have long championed requires a deep dive into the lateral’s client mix, relationships and practice synergies. These are objective criteria that can be easily evaluated through the candidate interviewing process. I leave the cultural evaluation to the partners since that is something difficult to see from the outside but is also a self-fulfilling prophesy that bears little on the lateral’s critically important early success in moving clients.

Laterals are counted on to solve all kinds of problems for law firms from entering a new market to boosting revenues to infilling expertise. It behooves us to find a better solution framework. Maybe a loss of $2 billion on revenues of $17 billion is an acceptable cost of doing business. But lateral failures have hidden costs that may be even more costly to firm morale and client satisfaction. It’s time the industry take a more thoughtful approach to lateral hiring and force a more detailed conversation inside the firm about the data points that can predict lateral success.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Most Important Phase of the Legal Sales Process is Being Ignored – The Legal Services Buying Process.


Have you ever wondered why a company fails to engage a lawyer (any lawyer) to fix a problem for which they clearly need a solution? Or, why a company doesn’t follow through on an easy opportunity you’ve presented to them?

Have you wondered why you win some engagements quickly while others take forever to get signed? Or, have you offered to do a small piece of work, a free assessment or offered to give a second opinion only to have the company ignore your calls and emails?

Why is it that you sometimes get a large engagement from someone who hardly knows you while the person with whom you’ve developed a strong relationship doesn’t hire you for the big deals? Or, why you get the scraps but other equally or less qualified firms get the meaty projects?
Have you ever suspected that more is going on inside the company or that there are politics at work in a prospective company?

If you’ve been active in business development in the corporate legal industry, you’ve had these questions and experiences.

Selling is hard. Brutally hard. Caring, nice, smart, experienced, business savvy lawyers who proactively reach out to well qualified prospects with proven solutions still fail to close new engagements nine times out of ten. The questions above point to the frustration of selling. But they also provide a clue to an overlooked part of the legal business development process, the legal services buying process.

Legal services buyers have their own unique internal dynamics that must be addressed before they are ready to begin the legal services buying process. In some cases, and with certain practice areas, the process that a company goes through to be ready to buy occurs quickly. But in numerous other situations and legal subject areas, the process occurs slowly, in fits and starts or forces company decision makers through a great deal of internal wrangling, politicking and effort.

Businesses make decisions to hire outside counsel in ways that are unique to each individual business. A company's decisions can change course, stop suddenly, speed up or switch to new partners without warning. We assume that companies who are seeking help with their legal problems are ready to engage the lawyer when they find one that suits their needs and can solve their problems. But for a lot of selling situations, that’s simply not the case. Buyers sometimes use these sales discussions to gather information, think through their own internal challenges and gauge risk and opportunity.

As outside counsel, we don’t have a view of this internal company decision-making process. But if we did, it would explain why some engagements are signed quickly while others drag on unsigned; why some work comes from people we hardly know; why you only get small scraps of work and not the big deals; why a company doesn’t respond to genuine offers of assistance or why companies don’t seem to understand what the company actually needs in terms of legal assistance. Most importantly, a view inside the company would expose the myriad of political calculations, business decisions, and historical learnings that shapes a company’s readiness to engage outside counsel.

Not all legal work comes with the same set of motivations and objectives. Some legal work is non-discretionary. That is, the company has few options but to engage outside counsel to assist with the matter. Examples of these situations include ‘bet-the-company’ litigation, corporate filings, regulatory work or investigations. The impetus for this work comes from forces bearing on the company which gives the company little choice in how it will proceed. And in these cases, it must typically act quickly.

On the other hand, some work is discretionary. Sometimes even optional. That is, the project must be prioritized and assigned resources in the context of the business’s other pressing needs and opportunities. Outside counsel’s ability to understand these internal priorities and strategies are limited, and even then, often distorted.

​Because of this, legal business development training does not address the earliest phase of the sale funnel, the phase which occurs inside the company before it has decided to engage outside counsel. Conventional training ignores the company’s buying decision process. In doing so, several important opportunities are missed and questions left unanswered which, not only makes us less effective, but inhibits our ability to learn and improve selling methods.

The complexity of decisions drives the speed in which a company can make a decision. Companies facing complex choices must decide on the strategic importance to the company of the problem or opportunity and tease out the breadth and complexity of the implications any potential solution will have on the company, its operations, customers, partners and resources. As an example, a simple offer to revise clauses in a technical contract may appear necessary, even simple. But the consequences (or unintended consequences) of revising those clauses can have far reaching affects on the company. Both the lawyer and company stakeholders must carefully consider those implications before they can engage someone to revise those clauses.  

When lawyers call on their business contacts, they don’t typically consider the internal dynamics that must align in order to have the consensus necessary to be ready to find and vet solutions. Without this internal alignment, even the most rational and profitable decisions can languish in company politics, analysis or projections. The saying ‘paralysis by analysis’ speaks to this very problem: it is the label we give when companies can’t resolve the disconnects, gaps and competing priorities that prevents internal consensus and a company’s readiness to buy a solution.

One assumption of conventional business development training is that lawyers have little influence on the buying decision process. Instead, they focus on the buying process itself, applying a selling framework without regard to where the company is in this internal consensus about a solution. That’s a mistake. But take heart. It is a mistake made across numerous industries which sell their dynamic solutions into multinational or highly matrixed corporations.

Corporate law firms with dozens of practice and sub-practice areas often find that a single business development method is difficult to adapt to every practice area's selling situation and client type. The litigators of the firm often bemoan sales training because, well, you can’t persuade a company to get itself sued. Indeed, litigation services is a different selling situation than transactional services, which is a different selling situation from advisory services. From the company’s perspective, those that see little risk in a situation or who find the implications of an issue narrow in scope may not be motivated to act. Conversely, problems which have strategic or existential importance for the company and narrow, well understood implications are more likely to be dealt with quickly. Issues or matters which are both strategically important and which have complex and wide-ranging implications for the company will require careful study and consideration.

It may seem obvious that companies require each legal need to achieve an ROI or make a ‘business case’ in order to move forward on the project. It is not so obvious that lawyers can help in this process. But they can. And in doing so, they can significantly increase their closing ratios and reduce the number of other lawyers they compete with for that work. Some estimates project the improvement as high as 600%!

A new selling strategy offers these and other benefits for professional selling situations and is especially relevant for corporate lawyers. Decision-Strategy Selling™ is a complement to selling skills training programs and helps attorneys better understand, facilitate and navigate the prospect’s engagement decision and selection process thereby improving the attorney’s selling process. It gives lawyers a framework to better adjust their sales pursuit strategies to accommodate the unique buying experience of their practice area and of their target company prospect. And it teaches lawyers how to stay 'tuned in' to the company's engagement decision process showing them how to shift roles from decision coaching, consultative selling or contractor negotiation roles to move engagements to conclusion. In most cases, Decision-Strategy Selling™ does not replace the need for consultative selling skills training. It guides lawyers in refining their pursuits in real time to maximize their selling effectiveness and close engagements faster.

Lawyers who learn Decision-Strategy Selling™ techniques earn trusted adviser status more quickly because they learn how to facilitate decisions and avoid using consultative persuasion techniques until it is appropriate. They learn decision coaching techniques that reveal more about the company’s operations, internal relationships and strategic priorities than lawyers who only use consultative selling skills or research tools. And they gain the insights required to formulate pitches that closely align with company needs and priorities, often times eliminating the company’s need for competitive bids.
Law firms are not known for their business development savviness, let alone their ability to innovate sales methods. But Decision-Strategy Selling™ provides a methodology that is a natural extension of a lawyer’s innate capabilities such as questioning and discovery skills. And creates a new awareness of the phases of selling and the best techniques to navigate the sales process.

Conventional selling skills training suggests building authentic relationships as a condition for sales opportunities. But the byproduct of ‘selling’ is sales pressure which is destructive to authentic and trusted relationships. Decision-Strategy Selling™ eliminates the sales pressure that forms in consultative selling situations because it focuses the lawyer on coaching skills, skills that enhance relationships rather than challenging the relationship.

eLegal Training, LLC is offering free one to three-hour workshops for corporate law firms interested in exploring the selling concepts of Decision-Strategy Selling™. Workshop participants will learn a simple methodology for quickly evaluating the complexity of a legal services selling situation and how to fine tune their business development strategies. They’ll be able to explain the buying decision process and will gain new skills and questioning techniques that will enable them to move through the three main phases of a legal selling situation more effectively. And lastly, they will gain greater confidence in business development abilities through a heightened awareness of company buying decision process and their role in networking, sales conversations and the pitch process.

Eric Dewey, MBA, is the Founder of eLegal Training, which creates, produces, manages and hosts short form ‘eLearning’ courses for the legal services industry. He is the creator of Decision – Strategy Selling™, a pre-sale, non-selling process designed for business lawyers that complements and energizes conventional sales training programs. For more information or to schedule a workshop, coaching session or speaking engagement, contact eric@eLegalTraining.com or  visit www.elegaltraining.com.


Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Decision - Strategy Selling. A Revolution in Legal Sales Techniques.


Two companies have the same legal need. Both companies end up speaking to the same lawyer however they came to that lawyer through two different paths. In the first situation, the company searches for the lawyer to solve their problem. They do an internet search, find the lawyer and hire her almost immediately to solve their problem.

In the second situation, the lawyer seeks out the company who has the problem that they can solve. He speaks to his connections and referral sources, gets an introduction to the company, secures a meeting, and makes a very well-received presentation to the company’s decision maker.

The first situation, in which the company searches out the lawyer, results in a new engagement roughly 30 to 40% of the time. The latter situation, in which the lawyer searches out the company, results in a new engagement less than 10% of the time. The problem is the same, the needs are the same, the solution is the same and the lawyer is the same. Why does the success rate differ so much between these two situations? What does this tell us about what is wrong with selling legal services? 

Conventional business development training programs follow a familiar path: Make connections; build relationships; identify needs; differentiate your service; overcome objections and close the engagement. The process begins and ends with the assumption that identified legal needs lead to engagements.

As popular as this process is, it can’t explain fundamental challenges that we see so often in our business development pursuits. For instance,

·        why a prospect stalls or disengages from the selling process

·        why lawyers with a strong company relationship are not always selected

·        why some engagements get signed quickly and some take months, and

·        why some prospects recognize a legal need but don’t solve their problem.

These situations are the source of frustration for anyone actively engaged in selling legal services. Without a good explanation for this seemingly erratic behavior we conclude business services buyers are, at least sometimes, ‘irrational’ - a characteristic of buyers of consumer goods, but not corporations. Businesses are anything but irrational.

Unknowingly, we have adopted certain assumptions that obscure the fact that our process, and not our lawyers, is fundamentally flawed or, more accurately, incomplete.  We assume that:

·        When companies recognize a legal need, they are inclined to find a solution.

·        The selling process is linear (think sales funnel) and follows specific steps that, if followed skillfully, will advance a prospect to an engagement.

·        Selling is a numbers game. The more contacts we make, the better our chances.

·        Buyers do business with people they know and like. As such, relationships are a required context for the opportunity of new engagements.

·        There is one decision maker. A key to success is in appealing to this person.  

·        There is a single sales method that works for all selling situations, practice areas, industries, buyer types, buying circumstances, etc.  

Conventional business development methods ignore an important part of the legal services selling process: the legal services buying process. Companies have buying processes just as we have selling processes. And those buying processes are the source of much of what frustrates us. It include much more than simply the recognition of a problem and the selection of a provider. It includes a unique, internal process that prioritizes, builds consensus and project outcomes for the array of possible solutions. This internal decision process happens before a company can find a solution or provider. And so far, we’ve ignored that part of the buying and selling transactional process.

We can’t fully understand how buyers buy until we have insight into how buyers decide to buy. We think carefully about what we should do to persuade a prospect, differentiate our services and negotiate the best terms and yet nothing about the company’s receptiveness to our proposed solutions. If a company does not have internal consensus on a solution, no amount of selling, relationship building or negotiation skills will move them.

When a company is ready to buy and has decided on the provider, the only thing to do is to negotiate the terms of the engagement. If the buyer is ready to buy but not set on the particular provider, consultative selling skills can help you to identify needs, differentiate your service, and close the engagement. But we currently don’t have a way to know where the company is in their buying decision process and whether they will be receptive to lawyers educating them about a problem and selling them on their solution.

To illustrate this point further, consider when a company is slapped with a large, bet the company-type lawsuit. In that situation, the company needs to fix their problem and the internal decision to proceed is made quickly. Companies typically know the best lawyers for these problems. The well-known lawyer that fixes those problems won’t need to sell that much. The buyer knows what they need and that the lawyer fits their needs. The lawyer simply has to negotiate the engagement terms and price.

In other situations, the company recognizes that they have a need but haven’t yet determined the best solution or the best provider. Internally, they’ve decided on a course of action, they just haven’t determined yet the specific steps to take. For example, think about a company which has undergone strategic planning and determined that it needs to find a company with whom to merge. The company has aligned behind the need but not the particular solution or provider. The lawyer in this situation can use consulting skills to influence the selection in her favor.

Lastly, let’s imagine you are pitching a financial technology company to redraft contract language for new regulations. In order to be ‘ready to buy’, the bank will first need to answer a host of questions to determine the implications and impact of these changes and align internal (and sometimes external) stakeholders behind a solution. They have technology considerations, human resource issues, legal questions and budgets that all must be addressed in order to come to a ‘Go. No go’ decision. Without a decision in how to proceed, the lawyer is selling a solution before the bank is ready to buy.

It's not hard to understand why addressing the internal buying decision process has been left out of the selling process. Your lawyers are on the outside of the company. They are not privy to the internal politics, the relationship dynamics, the cultural norms and values, the history and hard-fought lessons that determine how the company operates, how it makes decisions and how it selects providers. It’s hard to see how they could influence decisions.

But they can help facilitate the decision process from outside by helping their contacts inside the company ask better questions, get better information, understand all the stakeholders and more clearly understand the resistance to the changes some legal solutions will cause inside the company. As the example illustrates, not all legal selling situations need buying decision facilitation. So, a system to know which do and which don’t will help you know which skills are best for each situation.

Expanding our definition of the selling process to include the company’s buying-decision process sheds light on the internal dynamics, motivations and time frames companies have about solving their legal problems.  This revelation led to a new business development process called Decision-Strategy Selling™ that provides lawyers with a framework to evaluate where the buyer is in their internal buying decision process and presents a new set of skills to help find the quickest path to an engagement decision. It complements existing sales training because it helps lawyers know the situations in which selling skills will be most effective and which opportunities are truly worth pursuing. And it builds relationships more quickly because the lawyer starts the relationship as a trusted advisor and not a sales person.  

It’s time to start thinking differently about what works and what doesn’t work in legal sales. Most importantly, we should ask why our sales methods used on a qualified prospect with a specific legal need fails nine times out of ten. It’s because we are not selling to where the buyer is going to be. We wouldn’t accept such a low success rate in our legal work. And we shouldn’t accept such a low success rate in our business development efforts either.


Eric DeweyMBA, is the Founder of eLegal Training, which creates, produces, manages and hosts short form ‘eLearning’ courses for the legal services industry. Contact eric@eLegalTraining.com or visit www.elegaltraining.com.

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Simple Way to Overcome Business Development Aversion in Lawyers

Many Lawyers eschew business development networking and outreach. Intuitively, they know they need to do it, even admire those who are successful at it. But privately, they call it ‘schmoozing’ or ‘glad-handing’ or some other negative connotation. Given the choice, they would rather have a tooth drilled.
The industry’s response has been to exclude these lawyers from training programs preferring instead to ‘work with the willing.’ But as many as 30% to 40% of a law firm’s lawyers are averse to participating in business development programs, networking activities and, what was once described to me as ‘forced’ social interactions. Assuming these activities produce results, and they do, that’s a lot of new clients left out of the firm’s mix.
Maybe we’re addressing Business Development Aversion (BDA) all wrong?

Neuroscientific studies suggest a better way to deal with individuals’ aversion to certain situations like networking and outreach activities. The technique to overcome this aversion is surprisingly simple, having already been proven effective in almost every other situation from dealing with loneliness, eating disorders, anxiety, relationships, work performance, and even depression. It does not replace business development training, social skills development or the need to get out of one’s office. Instead, studies suggest a simple change in the instructional technique and approach is all that is needed.  
The studies indicate that the most effective way to overcome business development aversion is to change how these lawyers think about networking and outreach activities. Changing a person’s mindset is, as Carol Dwerk showed in her seminal book, Mindsets, an important path to performance improvement. Fortunately, Dwerk’s techniques can work on anyone, and work on anyone easily.
The reason for the aversion, I suspect, is that BDA lawyers tend to expect networking and outreach activities to go badly. They expect to feel bad when networking or reaching out to others and project in their minds that others will also feel bad or be put off by their outreach. They approach the activity with the expectation that they will be unsuccessful, which in turn builds negative emotions into their perspective and, by extension, their behavior and body language. In other words, this expectation transmits itself to others, who detect these feelings and become less approachable themselves.  
Furthermore, it is contagious as well. BDA lawyers not only communicate negativity about these activities to other lawyers but they also elicit it from others reinforcing and perpetuating those same behaviors in others.
In my coaching, I hear lawyers make up excuses or create rationales for why their assigned outreach to a prospect was not done. They explain it as no longer worthwhile, a possible interruption, that they lacked the time or that somehow the call plan was no longer appropriate – all of this despite having agreed to it in the previous session. While their explanations are varied and seemingly rationale, their reasons have one thing in common: They had no factual basis for the perception that led to their lack of action. That is, they’ve created the rationale in their head and had no indication from their prospect that timing (or any other reason) was making the outreach a bad idea. My probing almost always confirms this.
Aversion to business development is not a function of schooling, upbringing or firm culture. The profession of law does not include inherent personality traits that work to self-select lawyers from the need to network, reach out to others or otherwise grow their practice. We all choose our perspective, including attorneys. We each have filters through which we view situations. It’s just that some of us have learned to control the aperture of our lens to find the positivity in situations. Observe the best rainmakers in your firm and you’ll see lawyers with confidence, positivity, empathy and who embrace social interactions. You’ll see lawyers with a ‘growth mindset’.

Lawyers with BDA have increased sensitivity to and actively surveil their world for negative social responses. They process negative social information first, remember more of the negative aspects of social events, hold more negative social expectations, and are more likely to behave in ways that confirm their negative expectations. This negative orientation perpetuates a deepened and more entrenched aversion to networking and social outreach. The loop of negative thinking is excusable in that it does have some short-term self-protective features. But over the long term, it builds significant and lasting adverse effects on an attorney’s physical and mental health and well-being.
While it seems obvious to address the situation head on through more training, mock social interactions or to guide them in creating snappy elevator speeches to raise their comfort level in starting business conversations, these tactics do little to overcome the core resistance to such situations. The aversion does not result from the situation. And yet, as BD trainers we tend to focus on the situation, not the perception of the situation. The source of the problem is in their heads. Fortunately, turning an aversion mindset about networking and outreach around is surprisingly easy to affect in others.

A growing body of research suggests (along with my own experiences) that emphasizing the positive outcomes, finding the good, emphasizing the small objectives which have been achieved or otherwise focusing the mind on searching for the positive in the interaction, goes further to rework the lawyer’s mindset about business development. The simple question, ‘What good happened?’, releases the benefits of training. Not just coaches and trainers can help to build a ‘good’ finder’s habit, but practice groups leaders, peer attorneys and the firm’s leadership can play an important role as well.  

A positive mindset gives the business development training traction because it makes lawyers more receptive to the techniques by no longer filtering those techniques through a lens of negative anticipation. But the benefits reach far beyond the bottom line.

Guiding and helping to shift the mindset through coaching, ideally through both professional coaches and internal mentors, is an effective way to ensure that the business development training takes root. Coaching amplifies its effectiveness, especially when that coaching is focused on more than accountability for action but on shaping their perceptions of success.

The mind responds to feelings of empathy and gratitude just as it does to feelings of anxiety and disappointment. The neuroplasticity of the mind enables it to choose which emotions it will focus on. As business development professionals, we have to get better at identifying and helping BDA lawyers to change their mindset and focus on the positive outcomes that reside in every business development interaction. It is how law firms can truly ‘run on all cylinders’ in their business development efforts.

I’m not saying its wrong to only ‘work with the willing’. Sometimes early wins are important to the acceptance of new programs. But I do think more attention needs to be paid, and more compassion shown for, lawyers stuck in the negative mindset of self-doubt, a mindset that inhibits their success and the success of many law firms. 

Monday, May 28, 2018

Thinking of Making a Move? Read This First!

A 2015 study by GDC and ALM Legal Intelligence found that AmLaw 200 law firms averaged over 300 resumes a year from attorneys seeking a change in law firms. Several firms reported more than 600 resumes a year from recruiters. It’s a buyer’s market. Lawyers looking to move to a new firm face not only stiff competition but must accept the financial risk and the consequences of client disruption if their plans fail to materialize as expected.
What can make laterals more attractive and put them in a better negotiating position? The answer is an independent client portability assessment.
In business, mergers and acquisitions are considered only after a thorough due diligence process to test the viability and risks associated with an acquisition. This due diligence not only validates the assumptions of the transaction but provides insights into how best to manage the process and squeeze the most value out of the acquisition. However, in the legal sector, this level of due diligence is generally not performed on the clients of a lateralling attorney. Nor do the candidates themselves offer an objective assessment of which clients will move with them, only their own biased assumptions.
These assumptions are more often wrong than right.
A 2015 study by GDC and American Lawyer Media found that less than 30% of laterals in the study brought all of the clients they expected to port to the new firm. To alleviate this risk, most firms have adopted a performance-based compensation plan that pays only when client retention is realized.
Portability reports lay out the rationale for why each of the key clients in the candidate's book of business will likely move. For some reports, this analysis can include the projected desirability of the new firm to each client. At a minimum, the analysis examines more than two dozen factors which influence the client's decision to move. It is performed from the client’s perspective and considers their risks and potential rewards of making a move with the lawyer. The analysis does not have to include actual discussions with the client through such interviews improve the reliability of the forecasts substantially.
For each client, a confidence rating based upon those factors is given along with an explanation of each finding. Reports can then be used by the candidate and recruiter to focus their search, strengthen their case for the move, sway opinions in partnership votes, help formulate compensation plans and use the findings to form the basis for strategic integration and cross-selling plans once the lateral makes the move. 
While a client portability assessment can be done on behalf of the firm looking to hire the candidate, it makes more sense for the recruiters and candidate's themselves to initiate the analysis. Think of it like a home inspection, either buyer or seller can request a report. But the seller puts their home in a better competitive position for a quicker sale when they assess the home up front.
Client portability analysis requires a deep dive into the relationship an attorney has with her or his clients and the structural obstacles that clients face in a making a move to a new firm. For the candidate, it is often a highly educational process which provides direction to the lawyer for further cultivating and securing those relationships. It provides insights into how to position the lawyer's practice and to which firms that lawyer's practice will be most attractive. And it maintains control of the information that is or is not shared with prospective firms safely in the candidate's hands. 
Recruiters that are not getting traction in the interest firms have in their candidates can use this analysis to identify the challenges that candidate face in their practice, obstacles that are often unseen by the candidates (and frequently the recruiters) themselves. It provides an objective perspective of the marketability of the candidate giving important insights into positioning, targeting and negotiating on behalf of the candidate. This helps that candidate better understand what they can do to make their practice more attractive to more law firms.
Lawyers who are considering a move to a new firm can use client portability reports to increase the attractiveness of their practice and improve their negotiating position. Buyers, convinced of the portability of an attorney's client portfolio can act more quickly, raise the guarantee and plan more strategically for the integration of the lateral's clients.
If you are thinking about making a move, consider a confidential portability assessment and client book due diligence report. It will set your practice apart from the dozens of other laterals with whom you are competing for a placement in a new firm. Contact Eric Dewey at eric@groupdewey.com for more information.