The Business of Legal: Sales is Not a Dirty Word, Part I

My co-contributor for this month is Allen Rodriguez, Chief of Product at ONE400. Prior to co-founding ONE400, Allen served as the Director of Attorney Services at LegalZoom and lead the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service operations. Boasting a 17-year legal career, Allen provides mentorship at legal hackathons, speaks on the future of law, and presents on marketing strategies for lawyers.

Over the past several articles, I’ve focused on creating a set of metrics for measuring firm performance. This month and next, I’m switching gears: I’m interviewing legal practice business development experts to identify tactics for creating additional revenue. I’ll share some tips to create more sales and therefore increase return on investment or return on the firm’s dollars invested in marketing and business development.

It used to be that “sales” was an unspoken, almost dirty word when used in the context of law firms. However, recently, I’ve noticed that lawyers want to learn more about sales and marketing principles. My theory is that this stems from the changes in how consumers “shop” for legal services. Far more time is spent researching options, which still include lawyers. However, rather than calling and interviewing potential attorneys, many potential clients instead just search online.

Having spent the last thirty years in and around professional services firms but never directly in sales and marketing, I asked Allen Rodriguez, the Chief of Product at ONE400, to contribute with some tips around both sales and marketing. Allen split his tips into two parts, first addressing sales.

The abundance of online information coupled with crowd-sourced reviews (think Yelp) has empowered consumers to be more selective about who they hire to solve their legal issues. This shift in consumer behavior has increased competition among law firms.

In response, firms have increased adoption of active sales and marketing strategies for the purposes of acquiring new clients. Here’s how some lawyers are going about tackling the sales challenge:

Basic Sales Principles

If you have leads coming in from your marketing efforts, you need a process for turning those leads into paying clients, which is your firm’s sales process. If you’re serious about closing clients, you need to make acquiring new leads a priority. Promptly answering calls from prospects shows them that you and your staff are responsive and available. If you are working on deadlines and don’t have an assistant to take calls, consider an answering service or an online virtual assistant. Once you’re speaking with a lead, you can incorporate the following sales principles into your consultation:

Conduct a needs audit or assessment.

This is already part of most attorneys’ consultation process. Basically, a needs audit determines the immediate problem and desired outcome of the potential client (PC). Oftentimes, an attorney will jump into a very specific line of legal questioning, which can sometimes leave the PC feeling as if his or her needs weren’t “heard” during the initial consultation. To avoid this, take a few minutes to let the customer explain his or her desired outcome. This will help you better explain how you’ll meet their goals.

Conduct a hood check.

This means you’ll determine the PC’s current ability to contribute to the resolution of this or her legal problem. Find the answers to the following:

  • Can he or she afford your services?
  • Does he or she have sufficient proof or documentation to bring action against another party?
  • Is he or she truly ready to take the next steps? (Think family law.)

The PC may have come to your office wanting a certain result but may not have a foundation for taking next steps toward their desired outcome.

Architect a solution.

This is where an attorney brings the most value. After you’ve assessed needs and determined what the PC is able to contribute to the case, you should recommend steps or a strategy to achieving his or her desired outcome. I recommend the following strategy:

  1. Explain to the PC how the law may relate to his or her desired outcome.
  2. Have an honest conversation about fees and other costs. When it comes to fees, that discussion is typically more palatable to the PC when it is discussed in terms of how the fee relates to his or her desired outcome.
  3. If a client doesn’t have an ability to pay the full retainer fee upfront, consider allowing the PC to establish a relationship with you by offering limited scope services instead. Big-ticket purchases typically have a longer sales cycle, so allowing the PC to start slowly with a limited scope reduces barrier to entry; it is much easier to move the PC up to full service once he or she has a more established relationship with you.
  4. Outline specific next steps and timelines so that the PC feels confident that he or she is making the right choice in hiring you.

Close the deal.

  1. Get the retainer out and have the PC sign, informing him or her that upon receiving payment, you’ll get started.
  2. Explain to the PC your plan and the process you’ll use for prosecuting the legal matter.
  3. Manage expectations up front to avoid any confusion in the future. For instance, tell the PC when he or she can expect calls and how he or she should communicate with you.

If you are a solo or small firm, I have one last tip: involve your staff in crafting the process to ensure that everyone has a clear understanding of not only the steps but also the desired outcome along the way.

The increase in sales will help you increase profits, reduce cash flow issues, and bring about the confidence you need to expand your team and grow your firm. Remember all businesses rely on effective sales for growth, even law firms.

 

Read Mary’s previous installments here

About Mary Juetten

Mary Juetten
Mary Juetten is the founder and CEO of Traklight and the co-conspirator behind Evolve Law. She specializes in helping companies in transition or startup create sustainable, operational, and financial growth. Her financial credentials and legal degrees provide a foundation for consulting on business or practice improvement. Mary created the only self-guided risk management software platform that creates a custom business risk and intellectual property (IP) strategy and automates the client question and intake process for business, IP, and startup or venture attorneys. Mary is an international writer, who contributes to Forbes, the ABA's Law Technology Today, GoDaddy Garage, and the Lawyerist plus wrote KPIs for Small Law Firms for Thomson Reuters; speaker; and mentor. Mary is on the GLSA Board and is a LegalShield Access Advocate.

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  • Aaron George

    Nice article Mary! Lots of great information here. Managing this sales process can be a challenge, which is exactly why we built Lexicata (https://lexicata.com).

  • Dina Lynch Eisenberg

    Nice outline of the sales process, Mary. Identifying qualified leads is one of the challenges a small firm faces that can be solved by outsourcing. Firms can easily research within their zip code, or any other desired criteria, to find clients and introduce them to the firm. A virtual assistant can provide a fairly targeted list for under $200. Dina’s Rolodex (http://DinasRolodex.com) provides vetted names and assistance in delegating.