To get lawyers thinking about sales, the first step is to set up a system that rewards them for sales. Not a revolutionary idea, but one that many firms don’t implement or implement poorly.
You need to entrench sales and marketing in the culture of the firm. Sales is not a dirty word, it’s what lawyers must do to become partners, build a great practice and make the firm financially viable for the long term.
By simply setting up a tracking system for sales, you get lawyers’ attention. And when you use the system to start impacting partners’ compensation, they quickly change their behavior and get down to business. In some firms, there are partners who simply do sales and very little legal work. They can be the most highly paid partners in the firm. They show the way for entrepreneurial young partners, who quickly see the benefits and build their own practices and become great partners.
Some will say that tracking and origination credits systems can be divisive and encourage internal competition. There are certainly management issues in making a sales tracking system work properly, but these can usually be easily handled. The pros dramatically outweigh the cons in most cases. Most firms with sales tracking systems already in place would never go back.
Track origination credits by clients and matters. In this way, you will encourage new client development and generate business from current clients. Studies show that 80% of your business is generated from current clients. And encourage sharing of origination credits between lawyers and within practice groups to promote team sales efforts. This will help institutionalize clients, resulting in longer-term retention of clients’ business and greater stability for your firm.
I’ve seen sales tracking systems in action that produce stellar results, which have helped make their firms extremely profitable. For many firms, this is the key to really unlocking your partners’ business generation potential.
I have seen it done at one of the major accounting firms. They had a sales team of 3 people that followed up on target clients and made sales presentations directly to clients. That was over 10 years ago now. From everything I heard, it was quite successful and well-received by clients. I’ve also heard that some of the larger US law firms have sales teams in place.
Ideally, your attorneys should be doing the sales. However, most attorneys aren’t trained in sales and don’t do a good job of it. I have also seen law firm partners in action who spend virtually all their time on sales and networking activities and are the most highly paid partners in their firms if they get results. If you build the culture to allow this to happen, your young attorneys will recognize this and will be inspired to build their practices rapidly through standard sales techniques.
I know of one large US law firm that bought the rights to a generic sales training course, made only minor edits for law firm use, and now presents it as standard fare to all their attorneys. More firms are starting to recognize the need to develop their young attorneys’ business development and sales skills early on, given the increasing competition for clients in today’s rapidly changing legal environment.
If I had to pick one key skill which can have the most impact on the profitability of law firms, it would be Leadership. I distinguish leadership from management in that leadership involves inspiring and motivating others to do what’s best for the firm, while management focuses on execution and efficiency. Lawyers often confuse the two functions, and focus on counting pencils and cutting staff instead of leading others and dealing with key issues holding back the firm.
There are many good books and materials on the subject of leadership, so firms should start by building a leadership library now. Hold inhouse leadership seminars for all partners and associates and provide one-on-one leadership training for those in leadership positions. This is just a start, as much more can be done here.