Two weeks ago I focused on career success and included two posts on “deliberate practice.”

Young lawyers are generally not prepared to meet with real potential clients. Has your firm ever created an opportunity to “deliberately” practice meeting with a fictitious potential client?

Law firms provide many opportunities to learn substantive law, but few opportunities to build interpersonal skills and learn and experience client relationships.

I learned this first hand at my old firm and created practice sessions with fictitious clients for our young lawyers. I would play the role of the potential client and we shot video over my shoulder of the young lawyer with whom I was meeting. Then, I would sit and go over the video with the lawyer.

Here is one example:

You are meeting for the first time with a a son and father of a family owned business. We will call them “Tom and Hank.” The business is now a third generation business, having been started by Tom’s father, Tom, Sr., who passed away a few years ago.

They have come to see you because the government is investigating their company. It is possible that the government investigation could put their company out of business.

You are not a white collar criminal lawyer, but you are experienced in legal matters affecting their industry. You are knowledgeable of their industry, but what in your background has prepared you to help a family that may possibly lose everything three generations have worked to build?

Twenty-two years ago, David Maister wrote an article: How Clients Choose. In the article, he made this important point, among many:

Unless their skills are truly unique and unmatched by any competitor, professionals are never hired because of their technical capabilities. Excellent capabilities are essential to get you into the final set to be considered, but other qualities get you hired.

Once I have decided which firms I will consider in the final set, my focus of inquiry shifts significantly. I am no longer asking, “Can you do it?” but rather, “Do I want to work with you?”

At some point in your career, you will meet with a potential client who is facing a very difficult situation. They will assume you have the technical capabilities to do the work.

Do you have a meeting with a potential client coming up? Will you be prepared for that meeting? What is your firm doing, and what are you doing to improve your interpersonal skills, so that your potential client will want to work with you?