Years ago I read The Trusted Advisor by David Maister, Charles H. Green and Robert F. Galford. It was one of the first books I had read that I felt really applied to lawyers.

I was so impressed that we formed a group of lawyers at my old firm who read the book together and met monthly to share ideas.  We actually captured our main takeaways in two PowerPoint presentations and shared those with other lawyers in the firm.

The Trusted Advisor

Let me share one example I found helpful:

In The Trusted Advisor the authors made a point that technical skills are not enough. You have to see the world from your clients point of view.

They quote Stephanie Wethered, an Episcopal priest who describes our ability to emphatically listen as being in direct relation to how closely we can feel what the other person feels. The authors then list 23 things that good listeners do. According to Maister, Green and Galford, they:

  1. Probe for clarification
  2. Listen for unvoiced emotions
  3. Listen for the story
  4. Summarize well
  5. Empathize
  6. Listen for what’s different, not for what’s familiar
  7. Take it all seriously (they don’t say, “You shouldn’t worry about that”)
  8. Spot hidden assumptions
  9. Let the client “get it out of his or her system”
  10. Ask “How do you feel about that?”
  11. Keep the client talking (“What else have you considered?”)
  12. Keep asking for more detail that helps them understand
  13. Get rid of distractions while listening
  14. Focus on hearing your version first
  15. Let you tell your story your way
  16. Stand in your shoes, at least while they’re listening
  17. Ask you how you think they might be of help
  18. Ask what you’ve thought of before telling you what they’ve thought of
  19. Look at (not stare at) the client as he or she speaks
  20. Look for congruity (or incongruity) between what the client says and how he or she gestures and postures
  21. Make it seem as if the client is the only thing that matters and that they have all the time in the world
  22. Encourage by nodding head or giving slight smile
  23. Are aware of and control their body movements (no moving around, shaking legs, fiddling with a paper clip)

These are great tips and just one reason The Trusted Advisor is well worth reading, and sharing ideas.

I coach many lawyers who are uncomfortable selling themselves. I can relate to their feelings because I was never comfortable selling myself. Then I learned there is a great difference between selling and helping clients. It was an aha moment for me.

If you want to learn how to attract clients without coming across as a salesman, I recommend you start by reading this Harvard Business Review Blog: The Most Important Predictor of Sales Success. Before you actually read it, can you guess what the most important predictor is? Then, take a look at this quote on what is not a predictor:

I found that what most companies and sales training programs think really matters in sales is wrong. When training salespeople, they tend to propose one of two things: A sales process with methods and tricks which can move you from prospecting to closing, or a set of behaviors and character traits supposedly typical of great salespeople and worth mimicking.

Neither approach gets to the most important predictor of sales success.

I will leave it to you to read the rest of the blog and determine what is the most important predictor of sales success.

If you are interested, I also recommend reading books and blog posts written by Charles H. Green. One of my favorite books is Trust Based Selling. To get you started I recommend reading an interview: Charles Green: Who and Why Clients Trust . As you will read, in the interview, Charles Green discusses three contrasts:

I would point out three contrasts. First, trust-based selling is a practice, not a process. Second, it’s about relationships and not transactions; and third it’s about serving clients, not serving the seller.

Can you get comfortable around the idea of trust based selling?


I am frequently asked how a lawyer can differentiate herself in her clients’ and potential clients’ eyes. Given that in any city there are many talented lawyers in each practice area, the question is a good one. Seth Godin might ask: How can you be “remarkable” in your clients’ and potential clients’ eyes?

To be “remarkable,” you must do things most other lawyers are not doing. Lawyers I coach are likely surprised when I tell them that the one skill that will easily differentiate them is how well they listen. Most lawyers don’t do it very well. Just suppose your clients were out there telling their colleagues and friends that you listen to her better than any other lawyer, what do you think would happen to your practice?

I have written about the importance of listening and a few months ago my friend Eric Fletcher wrote a guest post for me titled: Intentional Listening: How To Find Practice-Changing Opportunities.If you have time, go back and read what Eric wrote.

Recently I read: Communications: Are You Listening? I found that the Canadian Bar Association was focused on lawyers developing this skill:

The Canadian Bar Association’s Task Force on Legal Literacy identified improving lawyers’ listening skills as an important step toward improving the delivery of legal services to clients with literacy challenges. The average person spends at least 55% of the day listening. Why not do it more efficiently?

Take a look at the article because there are some good ideas on listening. I found a recent blog post titled: 5 Simple Ways To Be A Better Listener. If you actually commit to the 5 ideas, I am confident you will listen more effectively.

When lawyers I coach ask me for recommended books to read, one I frequently recommend is The Trusted Advisor  by David Maister, Charles Green and Robert Galford. The book includes a great chapter on The Art of Listening. In an earlier chapter the authors identify two problems I see in many lawyers:

The prime obstacle to focusing successfully on the other person (in our experience) is the apparently common belief that mastery of technical content is sufficient to serve clients well…

Another major obstacle is the inability to focus concentrated attention on the client. In the midst of a conversation with a client, we are likely to find ourselves with thoughts like, “How will I solve this problem?” “How will I get the client to buy this idea?” “What am I going  to say when the client finishes talking?” “How can I appear expert?”

I know the authors have it right. I have caught myself on more than one occasion having one or more of the very thoughts they describe.

At the end of their chapter on The Art of Listening, The authors list 23 things that good listeners do that make them good listeners and a second list with 10 things great listeners don’t do. Both of the lists are well worth studying.

Ok, I have given you lots of potential reading on the importance of listening and how to do it more effectively. I want to hear from you. What are you doing to become your clients’ best listener?


Yesterday I posted: How to Sell Yourself Without Acting Like a Salesman. I mentioned that I do not like a sentence that includes both the words sales and lawyers. 

If you go to Amazon and do a search in books for “Selling” you will find 42,225 books on selling. That is a lot of books. I believe that a very high percentage of those books discuss techniques that would be inappropriate for lawyers and are the very techniques that make most of us uncomfortable selling.

There are some books on selling that I think we should all read. Here are six of my favorites:

  1. Trust-Based Selling: Using Customer Focus and Collaboration to Build Long-Term Relationships by Charles H. Green-I believe this book is particularly appropriate for lawyers. I especially like the summaries of each chapter at the end of the book. Charles also has written many valuable articles every lawyer should read, including Selling Professional Services.
  2. High Trust Selling: Make More Money in Less Time with Less Stress by Todd Duncan. I especially like this book because it begins with self reflection. As noted in the description of the first chapter: “The Truest Measure of Your Success Is Invisible to Your Clients.” 
  3. SPIN Sellingby Neil Rackham. Every lawyer I coach knows about Neil Rackham’s masterpiece. In this book he explains how to ask Situation, Problem, Implication and Need questions. Every lawyer should create his own list of those questions. 
  4. Stop Telling, Start Selling: How to Use Customer-Focused Dialogue to Close Salesnda Richardson  I liked this book because it alters the idea of what it means to be client focused. While some of the practical tips in this book would not apply to lawyers, many do apply to lawyers.
  5. The Best Damn Sales Book Ever: 16 Rock-Solid Rules for Achieving Sales Success! by Warren Greshes. This book really surprised me. It was far broader than “selling.” There are chapters on settling goals and creating an effective business plan. 
  6. The Sales Bible: The Ultimate Sales Resource, Revised Edition by Jeffrey Gitomer. I have read many of Jeffrey Gitomer’s books and find them remarkably helpful. 

P.S. If you want some easy reading to get started this weekend, take a look at my e-book Client Development in a Nutshell. I am confident you will get one or more ideas there that you can actually put into practice next week.

 This week I have been giving clues on how to ask for business/close the sale. Here are the clues so far:

  1. Ask and answer why you are uncomfortable asking for business. You are likely uncomfortable because you do not want to take advantage or come across as a salesman.
  2. Position yourself so you never have to ask for business by identifying problems, opportunities and changes and giving away solutions. This is challenging to accomplish, but it gets rid of the need to ask.
  3. Build relationships with your contacts so you find ways to add value before being asked. This is a great approach because you are focused on helping your potential client.
  4. Work on your charisma. Clients want to do business with lawyers they know like and trust.

Now, we are ready to discuss the fifth and last clue on how to ask for business/close the sale. Here is the clue. Never ask for business and never try to close the sale. Why? Asking for business and closing the sale is all about what is in the relationship for you, not about what is in the relationship for your potential client. If you need more support for this conclusion read Closing the Book on Closing by Charles H. Green.

Here is the secret. Ask or tell your potential client you want to help them and do it as if you will not get paid for helping. The best lawyers are not practicing law for the money. They are doing it because they genuinely love helping their clients.

Seth Godin said it well in Linchpin

Virtually all of us make our living engaging directly with other people. When the interactions are genuine and transparent, they usually work. When they are artificial and manipulative, they usually fail.

So, the words you choose to ask for business are not as important as your sincere desire to help your client. The words I believe clients want to hear more often than not are: " I can help you with that."