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Law Firms Still Not Sold on the Concept of Selling

As compelling as lawyers are when it comes to selling a client's position at trial or during a negotiation, their powers of persuasion somehow dry up when lawyers are called upon to sell something equally important:  their own services.  As this article from The American Lawyer describes, while law firms are finally starting to recognize the importance of marketing, they have a long, long way to go towards doing it strategically and effectively.

I have to admit that I was shocked at the article's description of the pre-historic condition of marketing departments at today's top law firms.  For example, one major law firm was not using client relationship management software (CRM), thus losing out on an important opportunity to keep in touch with clients.  The firm's marketing director set up a robust CRM system and over the course of a year sent out 500 items such as client alerts or information on firm seminars.  At least ten percent of the mailings produced new work.

Yet even though simple marketing initiatives like this offer proven results, many partners aren't willing to personally engage in marketing over a long period of time -- and then blame the marketers when they don't instantly produce results. From the article:

[a] lot of partners don't want to do things themselves. Getting CRM systems running requires lawyer time. They've got to go through their Rolodexes and PDAs and figure out which contacts to contribute to a central repository, adding information about those clients -- like what sort of work the firm does for them and what alerts they might want to receive. Lawyers, of course, are already pressed for time. The situation explains another finding from the survey: While 62 percent of marketing officers say CRM software is the most useful tool they have, they also say it's been a challenge getting partners on board. Indeed, according to the survey, CRM ranks as the marketing project most resisted by partners. "All of the large firms struggle with CRM," says one marketing officer. "The problem is the upkeep of the data. You have to get lawyers to continually update their contact information while they are busy trying to practice law."

In stark contrast to the attitude towards marketing at large firms, Larry Bodine  spotlights a small law firm that requires new associates to have a sales background.  Pam Scholefield of Scholefield Associates, P.C. has created a "sales attorney" role that is similar to the position of a sales engineer at construction engineering firms where Scholefield worked before becoming a lawyer.  Both a sales engineer and sales attorney require individuals with a sales background, but who at the same time have enough specialized training to understand client needs.

What is it about lawyers and selling?  What causes the disconnect between (1) the need to find clients and (2) the desire to practice law?  After all, you can't have the latter without the former.  Sure, sales attorneys and marketing personnel are all important tools to help lawyers find clients -- but at the end of the day, it's the lawyer who has to close the deal and make the sale. 

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on February 20, 2008 at 03:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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