Lawyers I coach frequently tell me they are uncomfortable coming across to potential clients as a “salesman.” Do you share that feeling? I have some good news for you: You don’t have to become that worst image of a salesman to attract clients.
I have always wanted to own a Porsche 911 automobile. Two times I came very close to buying one. I remember thinking each time that if I had pursued sales, I would want to work at the Porsche dealership. Customers seem really excited about their purchase. Selling legal services could not be more different. No one gets up in the morning and says:
Oh boy, I get to hire a lawyer today.
Several years ago one of the very best associates who worked for me, and is now in-house, was asked by a law firm associate, what he knew now that he was in-house that he wish he had known when he worked in a law firm. His response was insightful:
I wish I had known that even when I did a super job in a litigation matter, my client still hated having to hire me.
That answer reminded me of a conversation I had early in my career. As many of you know, in 1978, I decided to focus my career on representing highway construction contractors. One of my very first highway contractor clients was Wiley N. Jackson, Company located in Roanoke, Virginia.
Mr. Burrows was the Wiley N. Jackson CEO, and father and father-in-law of two fellow Virginia Tech grads. Mr. Burrows is over 90 now and I still enjoy seeing him when I am in Roanoke. He didn’t know it at the time, but more than any other person, Mr. Burrows taught me how to become an effective lawyer for construction contractor clients and how to attract them without selling. I have told this story about him many times.
We were on an Eastern Airlines plane flight to Florida. We were seated in aisle seats across from each other. All of a sudden Mr. Burrows grabbed my arm and said: “Cordell, there is something I need for you to know.” I asked: “What’s that Mr. Burrows?” He replied: “I need for you to know that I hate every lawyer I ever met.” I did not know what to say. What could I say? Then he paused and grabbed my arm a second time and said: “But, I also need for you to know that of all the lawyers I hate, I hate you the least.”
Why did I receive this compliment? I asked Mr. Burrows many years later. He told me that it was because I took time to understand the highway construction industry and the business ramifications of the legal work. In that way, he believed that I thought like a contractor when doing the legal work. I did not act like many lawyers he had used before me.
Looking back now that makes great sense. Even though you are not selling Porsche 911 automobiles, and your clients would greatly prefer not to need your legal work, you can be successful attracting clients when you are able to see things from your clients’ business point of view.