In my work coaching lawyers on their marketing and business development efforts, one of the first things we talk about is “why did you become a lawyer”. There are many answers (and no wrong reasons to go into this career). But in conversations with over 100 lawyers, nobody has ever replied “because I wanted to have a sales career”.
What? Nobody ever told you that you that a successful practice (if you work for a law firm) means that you have to go get clients. Yes, in the business world we call this “sales” – but most law firms run from that word and prefer the term “Business Development”.
During my time working inside two AM LAW 100 law firms as a director of business development it always made me laugh how hard lawyers resist the world “sales”. I think in 2020 that has calmed down, but many older attorneys tried to position their career and their firm as somehow “above” a regular business. One partner tried to explain that being a lawyer was a “profession” and that was superior to other business. They way he explained it made it sound like a calling, as if he had joined the priesthood. Awesome, but the financial success of a law firm is not any different. To stay in business you need to make more money than your expenses to keep the lights on.
The reasons most people share as to why they became a lawyer fall into 6 categories:
- The Ability To Help People
- The Prestige and Honor
- The High Income
- Being Around Smart People / Intellectual Challenge
- Diversity of Work Options
- Family Tradition (My mom or dad are lawyers)
While all of these are great, none of them focus on the reality of having to develop business continuously.
Asking yourself the “why” you became a lawyer, and really exploring the answers is an important first step to getting back in touch with your passion. In any industry if you want to develop business you have to be excited about your product or service. Those who work in sales careers have the opportunity to make a lot of money, but sales jobs bring high levels of rejection. It is this rejection that make selling do difficult, and it is a reason many lawyers do not want to take a career job selling. But the truth is if you do not add new clients, you cannot practice law.
A key thing that I have to do with most coaching clients is help them get past their negative outlook about sales.
If you were to advise a business, you would never tell them to fire all their sales people and let their senior people develop business when they feel like it, regardless of if they are trained (or good at it), and without any recognition from others in the company. But that is exactly how most law firms handle their sales needs.
Thom Singer is an advisor to law firms and works with individual attorneys who are trying to improve their business development skills. If you want to learn more about his “Business Development Coaching For Lawyers“, contact him at thom (at) thomsinger.com