Being a good lawyer is about more than your technical skills. When I worked inside a large law firm I would regularly hear partners complain about losing and opportunity to another lawyer who they perceived as “not as good” when it came to the practice of law. Things would be thrown around their office in frustration when another firm was hired.
The problem with this focus on technical skills is that it is not quantifiable by clients looking to make a hiring decision. Being “good” is a subjective term. Plus, I have never seen anyone who is pitching to win a piece of business who admitted the competition was better at the service they offered. We all think you are good at what we do, or we would not be in our careers. Plus we live in a world where our egos tend to live in the front of our thoughts, and your ego will always show you the areas where you are superior.
My job, when I work with lawyers on their business development skills, is to help them realize there is more to winning business than just being good.
The first thing to remember is that your competitors are good too. If we clients could make lawyers take a competency test before hiring them, then we could just hire the “best” attorney. But words like “good”, “better” and “best” are simply not quantifiable, and why most bar associations have marketing rules around using such works in advertising.
The thing to remember is that clients are humans. For as long as there has been business, people will choose people they enjoy being around. It is an unseen and hard to identify quality, but “likeabilty” matters. Now that does not mean you can suck at your job, but most clients do not watch you do research, write briefs, or draw up contracts. They only see you in meetings with them. Maybe in litigation they can watch you do your work, but for all other areas of the law, being good is what you do behind closed doors.
I have had many arguments with lawyers who are intentionally gruff with people, as they have been lead to believe people want a lawyer who has a hard edge. One partner who was in an Intellectual Property Litigation practice told me he wins business because he is jerk. But I also know a half dozen lawyers in other firms who NEVER refer him business because of his personality. So he may win a few deals because he shows how hard he is on the edges, but he doesn’t get to the table to pitch for business many more times.
Success as a lawyer means having a steady stream of clients and working as much as you want to (not everyone want to work 60 hours a week, but if you are only billing 1000 hours a year, and want twice that, you are in trouble). Being capable of doing good work, but not having any clients is really a failure.
Yes, you have to do good work, but that alone will mean nothing. In the next few posts in this series on sales skills for lawyers we are going to talk about the power of building and keeping relationships that help you create a steady stream of business. But there is still more you need. Good skills and a good network will get you most of the way there, but establishing your career is not paint by the numbers activity. You have to create a series of actions that fit with your practice area and personality that will make you stand out in a crowded field.
Is you network strong? Do you have good communication skills? Are you with the right firm? Do your have a peer group?
Since I do not believe that anyone finds success alone, this is the part of the course where I am going to ask you to think about your close circle of friends who are also lawyers, with whom you share idea around growing your practice.
Do you have a Mastermind Group? This is a peer group where you all meet to share best practices and ideas. If this idea is new to you, you can look up the term “Mastermind Group” and find lots of examples on how to put one together. As a speaker and coach I have a mastermind group with three others, and we have met for over seven years to help each other discover new ideas to succeed. Think about it as your career board of directors.
Many lawyers think it would be weird to put together a group like this, but by this point in the course you should realize I am asking you to not think like all other attorneys. If you think like everyone else, you will get the same results, and the average lawyer is not crushing it in their career. You want to crush it.
The sad truth is many attorneys who you might label as “not a good lawyer” are making millions of dollars a year. I am not saying it is right or fair, but they are the ones cashing the big checks. The time is now to accept that doing good work is important, but that alone will not allow you to create the career you desire.
In the second lesson we talked about reverse engineering the lawyers you admire. Now I want you to take it a step farther and look at all the lawyers you know who are making the most money. What are they doing to win business? If you do not know, make it a point to find out. Yes, be technically great at what you do… but do not let the attention to skills alone hold you back from building a profitable practice.