This past week I spoke at the Legal Sales and Services Organization (LSSO) 2007 RainDance Conference. I began my presentation by telling a story. Eight years ago when I was the Construction Law Practice Group Leader at my firm, we had a practice group retreat at a ranch about an hour from Dallas. After dinner, one of my junior partners, who had been drinking a great deal, paid me what he believed would be the ultimate insult. He said: “Cordell, you are not a real lawyer, you are nothing but a salesman.” I wanted to respond, but I thought anything I could possibly say would be simply lashing back and unproductive. Instead, I thought about what he said. I think in his eyes real lawyers are ones who do excellent work and then wait for the phone to ring.
I hate any sentence that includes the words sales and lawyers. I hate to be sold anything and I know clients do not want to be sold. I am reminded of a story an assistant general counsel told me of a lawyer who called to set up a meeting, stating he would be in Omaha in a couple of weeks while he was on his way to San Francisco. Well, unless he was traveling by covered wagon, it was highly unlikely he would just happen to be in Omaha on his way to San Francisco.
Yet, we are salesman. In the end, we are selling ourselves and our firm. How can we do it? I have always believed that a lawyer has to build his or her profile or brand. I have also believed it is important to be the “go to” lawyer in some area.
One of my favorite books is Never Eat Alone written by Keith Ferrazzi. It is on the reading list I give to lawyers for 2007. In chapter 23, Ferrazzi talks about building your brand. He argues and I agree that perception drives reality. He further suggests that good personal brands do three highly significant things for your network of contacts: “They provide a credible, distinctive, and trustworthy identity. They project a compelling message. They attract more and more people to you and your cause, as you’ll stand out in an increasing cluttered world.” Then, Ferrazzi says: “in terms of branding, then the bottom line for everyone comes down to a choice: to be distinct or extinct.”
How can we be distinct as lawyers and build a brand? I do not believe we can sell legal services by “cold calls.” I feel the only way to build a brand and approach a potential client without an invitation is to be intently focused on finding a way to add value and give it away. It could be a book, article, or memo we have written on a topic the potential client would value and would cause the client to come to us.
Last week I mentioned that I believe I created a “dip” between me and lawyers with whom I was competing against that made it more likely they would quit before they caught me. Let me give you just a few examples of what I did so you can do the same thing. For a good portion of my career, highway and bridge construction projects in all 50 states, by law, were awarded to the low responsive and responsible bidder. In 1990, the Federal Highway Administration began allowing states to use “Innovative Contracting” techniques that did not fully comply with federal statute. As soon as I learned of this change, I wrote a manual for contractors on Innovative Contracting and began to conduct workshops across the country for contractors interested in learning how to compete in this changed environment. I wrote a letter to the 50 state executives of contractor associations explaining the change and offering to speak to their members about it. If you would like a copy of the letter, send me an email.
Later, the most controversial innovative contracting technique, and the one which created the greatest legal and economic issues, was the states’ ability to award “design build” projects. Once again, I created a manual and began speaking at conferences across the country, including ones sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration. Ultimately, I was hired by a state to help them draft a design-build contract and get permission from the state legislature to use the technique. I was hired by several contractors to help them prepare proposals for major projects.
I believe I was perceived to be unique in the highway and bridge construction industry because I understood contractors, their businesses, their people, and issues they encountered and worked to help them deal with problems, opportunities, and changes.
There are many other valuable ideas in Never Eat Alone and I recommend you read it, or find a summary of it. For now, what is your brand as seen through the eyes of your clients?  
Click here to get Never Eat Alone