The term “selling” when referring to legal services sometimes has a negative connotation, because we as lawyers do not like to be perceived as “salespeople.” But the reality is that we as lawyers and service providers are in the business of sales.
If you are an attorney in a private practice, nothing happens unless a client retains you or “hires” you to handle his case. Yes, we are in the business of professional sales that provide legal services. To successfully generate business for your firm, you must be proficient in the art of selling. Fortunately, there are a myriad of resources available including books, audio, videos, and live seminars (such as Stephen Fairley’s Rainmaker Seminars), on how to develop your selling skills.
Principles of Professional Selling
During the last 30 years, I’ve sold cars, insurance, copiers, recruitment services, advertising, and now, legal services. What I’ve found out is that the “principles” of professional selling are the same no matter what industry you belong to. To successfully sell legal services, I believe, we have to take the time to understand the client’s legal issue and how the client would like to solve the problem. I am the first one to admit that I spend too much time evaluating a client’s case before extending an offer to take the case. I evaluate a number of factors when evaluating a new potential client. (These are not rules which I keep on a checklist; instead, they are guidelines that I keep in mind during my evaluation process.)
- Is the client’s legal issue within my area of practice?
- Are the client’s expectations for possible solutions realistic based on the circumstances?
- Does the client have the ability to pay for the legal services?
- What is the client’s motivation for seeking legal services at this time;
- Have I established enough rapport with the client to begin the business relationship?
In my practice, I often receive inquiries from potential clients seeking advice for issues outside my area of practice. These inquiries I refer to other attorneys if I have a referring attorney; otherwise, I refer them to Avvo to look for answers to their questions and to find another attorney. If the client’s issue is within my practice area, I interview the client and try to find out the events that led him or her to my office. I believe it is important to let the client tell their story on their own terms. This might be the first time he or she seeks legal advice and I would like for that experience to be a positive one. Once the client has the opportunity to tell the story, I conduct my interview and begin to frame the legal issue utilizing the events described by the client. Once I have a good picture of the events, I share my understanding of the legal issue with the client and discuss possible courses of action to solve the problem.
Lawyers Are Hired to Solve Problems
I frequently ask prospective clients, “What would you like to see happen here?” or “How do you foresee this being resolved?” I believe it is important to begin discussing a resolution to the legal issue right from the beginning. I am hired to solve problems and I can attempt to solve the problem once I have an understanding of the client’s goals. Otherwise, the case is less likely to get resolved and it can linger for a long time. Are these case evaluations free? No, they are not. I offer a free 15-minute telephone case evaluation to pre-screen the case. Once it is established that the matter is within my area of practice and the type of case which I usually accept, the client is offered the opportunity to discuss the matter in my office for a fee which is applied to the initial retainer if I am hired.
My last two points that I would like to share with you regarding selling legal services deal with establishing rapport and the client’s ability to pay. I believe they go hand-in-hand. As attorneys, we are in the “people business” and we have to connect with people to be successful. When I meet a client for the first time, I already know that he/she is most likely apprehensive, intimidated, worried about their legal problem, and very worried about how much my services will cost. I do what I can to make the client feel comfortable and at ease before we begin discussing legal issues or hard facts. The initial five minutes of the client interview can set the tone for the rest of the client relationship and whether or not I am retained for the case.
Just as establishing rapport with the prospective client is important, the client’s ability to pay for the services is equally as important. As lawyers, we are business owners and we provide our services for a fee. After I establish that the client’s case is one that I would be able to represent, I discuss with the client the fees and budget requirements for the representation of the case. It is important that the client is clear on what he/she is expected to pay for the legal services before the representation begins. Since most of my clients are small businesses, I often offer a flat fee or payment plan to provide the representation. For many clients, this is the only way they could afford an attorney.
What does establishing rapport have to do with getting paid? Everything! If you don’t have rapport with your client, you will not get hired. This is a very competitive business and I believe that there has to be a certain degree of chemistry between the attorney and the client for the business relationship to be successful. How do you establish rapport? Be sincere and genuinely interested in the client’s problem. The rest will fall into place.