Fear, fees and loathing in legal services


I got asked by a client for some advice on how to choose which lawyers can, and should, learn to sell? 

I gave her two answers. Here’s the short one:

  • Every client-facing employee.

The idea that selling is aggressive or is something some people are born being able to do ‘the gift of the gab’ – is a myth. At every level in a law firm sales skills* are transformative. Admittedly I am bound to say that as its what I do for a living. But regardless of my enormous bias, here's the long answer:

  1. 10% of lawyers have already learned to sell - probably without realizing it is something that can be learned. These people are usually, but not exclusively called partners. They get grumpy and don’t understand why other people can’t do what they can, seemingly naturally (unconscious competence).

  2. 75% of lawyers want to get better but can get a bit frustrated when no-one helps them to improve (they are called people that will eventually get tired of being told off and will go work for the competition).

  3. 15% of lawyers will refuse to change (they are usually called a pain in the…) They say things like ‘market forces’ when asked about their low price points. They won’t work with marketing but blame them when the phone doesn’t ring. They blame having the wrong kind of clients/Brexit/leaves on the line. Anything other than the truth. The truth is fear. They are scared of this stuff.

Let’s look at what to do about 2 and 3…       

The fix for those in group 2 is as follows:

  • Skills. Give lawyers the right language to use, and a framework to know how and when to apply it. For example, exactly what questions to ask a client enquiring about a will to uncover their need for an LPA.

  • Process. Without repeatable process, embedded into day to day activity the change doesn’t stick. Think checklists, eg get a secretary to collate the answer to ‘how many residential property enquiries did we ask about wills and trusts today?’ Ask every day. For a month. And see what difference it makes.

The fix for group 3 is:

  • A cattle prod. Only kidding. Sort of.**

  • Confidence. People who nearly drown every time they try and learn to swim will eventually refuse to get wet. Shouting and threats do not work. They need practical help, with real-time mentoring and coaching if necessary. With support, applying new business development skills will become a lot less scary and a lot more effective. Seeing someone like this get better at business development is amazing to watch and will transform expectations for the rest of the firm.

* Sometimes law firms use phrases like "business development" and "commercial skills" - this is a non-scary way of saying selling.

** Surprisingly you can buy a shiny new battery-powered cattle prod from eBay for as little as £13.99 including VAT. I’m not saying you should, just that you know, you could. If you wanted to. 

Nicky Parker