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November 26, 2006

Be A Brilliant Salesperson To Be a Successful Lawyer

Connecticut Law Tribune - September 5, 2005

There is a wonderful joke out there which rings true for lawyers as well. What do you call a leader without any followers? Just someone walking. So what do you call a lawyer without any clients? Just someone with a J.D.

I've always maintained being a lawyer is the ultimate sales job, a noble sales job, but a sales job nonetheless. When I've said this to others in my profession, they bristle and act as if there is an offensive smell in the room. Well, the emperor has no clothes. We are, brace ourselves, somewhat revered and highly paid professional sales people. Let me explain. My mother is a brilliant salesperson. She's brilliant not because she can get you to buy something you don't need or because she can talk circles around a square (even though she could). She is brilliant because she has internalized to the level of her DNA the essence of salesmanship. She, along with every other truly gifted and successful salesperson, will tell you the key to the art of selling is to identify the client's need and then satisfy the client's need. The key to making money is to satisfy the client's need before the next salesperson does.

If you can understand the logic behind the idea of identifying then satisfying the need, you will realize salesmanship is a skill highly prized in this profession. We just call  these much-sought-after lawyers rainmakers. And we not only don't hold these rainmakers in disdain, we secretly envy them because we also know  in business those who don't bring in the money are just overhead, and therefore dispensable.

When you start your own practice, you have to be a rainmaker right out of the chute. While that sounds like a tall order, it's really not. Yet it's the number one fear voiced by my students and clients, alike. "How will I get clients? I'm a lawyer, not a salesperson." Most lawyers tend to distance themselves from the very skills required to get clients and they don't even realize it.

As a solo or small firm practitioner, you have to be a salesperson first, or you will have no one to buy your legal services. If you are opening your practice, as most do, where you are already a part of the community,  through family or friends, previous employment and affiliations, 62 percent of your business will be referred to you by your friends, relatives  and coworkers and affiliations. This means half of your sales job is already  done because you've already been marketing to this audience just by being  who you are.

Therefore, reaching out to that referral base is critical to getting nearly two thirds of your clients. By extension, this means much of your marketing/advertising budget should be geared toward those who already know you. How do you do that? You give them the tools they need to promote you. You leverage your relationships. Leveraging relationships means at every opportunity you must let your circle know what you are doing. Let them know you count on their support, and arm them with what they need to promote you. Bombard them with information as to what type of law you are practicing, announcements of your achievements, memberships, send Christmas cards, supply pens with your name, give them business cards. The list is endless. But this column is not meant to be a generic one-size-fits-all marketing plan.

The important concept is this: let your very valuable referral base know how important they are to you by both sharing your information and by remaining actively interested and connected to their lives. After you have contacted and leveraged the people you already know, contact--then start leveraging--the people you would like to know. The key to reaching out effectively to your target audience is doing what is most comfortable for you.

Someone can tell you all the strategies which have worked for them,  but if you are not comfortable with it you will feel awkward, not do it passionately and waste your time and money. For instance, if you are interested in elder law and are comfortable giving seminars to your targeted client base, let your referral base know you are giving seminars and even invite a few to participate. You hand out relevant literature which will have a readership of at least 2.5 potential clients. You have impressed both new potential clients and your referral base with one fell swoop.

Each plan to reach out to a potential  client base is as unique as you are, and therefore you have to start  identifying meaningful venues that work for you. Your job now is to start letting people know you are a lawyer and available to help them with legal matters which may arise. Remember, "sales" is not a dirty word or a necessary evil or the job of lessers. It is the one skill, separate and apart from your lawyering, which needs to be honed to perfection, the one skill guaranteed to keep a steady stream of clients coming through your doors.

Susan Cartier-Liebel is solo practitioner, adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law and a business consultant for solo and small firms. She can be reached at SCartier_Liebel@comcast.net. Copyright © Susan Cartier-Liebel (2005) All Rights Reserved. No portion of this material may be copied, transmitted, posted, duplicated or otherwise used without the express written approval of Susan Cartier-Liebel


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