There is no denying that there has been a change in the way the legal profession is practised. Not so much in technical aspects, but the way services are provided and this has also produced a change in the professional profile required by the legal market. These changes have come about due to adjustments in a changing environment given the need to be more competitive Law has traditionally been a technical profession which has found it hard to understand that firms have a particular business model and require business management skills to guarantee their future success.
I believe that this has created a lot of confusion by thinking that from an ethical perspective of the profession, the lawyer as the bulwark of justice, that the quest for professionalism and profitability of law firms were incompatible. The crisis and recession period of the Spanish economy created an extremely competitive situation for lawyers that forced them more than ever to find and generate business in a changing environment of many paradigms in the profession. A fall in prices, comparing budgets, less sophisticated work and fervent competition. .. But all of this has brought us developments in the profession which, far from changing the technical demands, have incorporated new abilities and skills of what it means to be a lawyer.
Nobody that studied law thought when making their choice that it would be relevant to have sales skills to practise or that it would be important for their future career development. This affects all levels, no matter how big the law firm, even if we are talking about a sole proprietorship, knowing how to generate business is vital.
I can’t say why the sales role in Spain has been so discredited, not only in the legal sector, but in society in general. To be a good salesman does not mean annoying someone until you are blue in the face, it means understanding and anticipating the needs of a potential client. The business world revolves around the process of buying and selling where there are buyers and sellers, and this is certainly true in the legal sector.
The sales process in professional services is a long haul process, where one must be generous by offering continued value in order to be kept in mind by the buyer when they need services. It does not mean being nice, it means planning and above all, dedicating necessary time to the commercial aspects by searching for that valued information (seminars, newsletters...)
As a result, being a lawyer has developed in such a way that being a salesman is not an extra task in their everyday work, but should be a part of the legal profession itself and this really is a paradigm shift that is difficult to embrace.
These skills do not need to come naturally, as they can be learned, but, I insist, they require dedication of time and training. Clients are looking for more than just technical advice. They are looking for empathetic lawyers who are resolute and committed. When value is bought by basing itself on being cost effective, efficient and knowing how to detect possible legal scenarios: anticipation; technical skills are assumed. This means a change in the rules of the game, as almost all of firms’ promotional material is based on descriptive legal aspects, not on different aspects relating to the service.
The price structure, billing system, proven expertise and above all being able to understand the problems of the client, by pointing out possible scenarios as well as evaluating the risks of their decisions, have become key elements which differentiate between firms. Being a salesman is nothing more than having common sense and planning, selecting a particular target market and drafting a specific offer with a distinctive message and persevering over time without getting discouraged by rejection.
Obviously, a distinct message which says “we are the best” is no use. It is good to show particular experience appropriate to the practice area or field, pricing policy, geographical service ability. …
We cannot forget that the arrival of social media has helped with new communication tools which allow law firms to continue maintaining a presence, but be careful because differentiation does not just come by being on the net but by drafting a message of value that responds to a strategy.
Being a salesman certainly does not discredit the profession in any way at all but rather it complements it with new skills which make the lawyer more complete and different from the traditional one, but adjusted to the changing environment, in which a knowledge based society, with easy access to information and competition have broken many paradigms. I conclude that being a salesman and a lawyer is not only possible but recommendable and with training and dedication a technical profile can be reconverted into a commercial one.
However, the most important thing is to be client orientated and to understand their needs which go beyond technical advice. The profession has been very conservative for many years, with very few changes to its business model, but we are living in changing times, where there is no turning back, which makes it exciting and full of challenges.
About the Author
Eugenia Navarro is a Chemical Engineer from the Institute Químico de Sarrià and holds a degree in Chemistry from the Ramon Llull. She also has a Master in Strategic Marketing from ESADE and participated in the program of Leading Professional Services at Harvard Business School. After years of practicing as engineer in mass market companies in the departments of quality assurance and product development, she decided to try the adventure of ‘marketing specializing in services’. It was in 2000, the year she joined Baker & McKenzie Spain as Marketing and Business Development Director. She was one of the first in such a position in the country. In the end she worked for Baker & McKenzie for seven years.
Currently, she is an independent consultant in legal marketing and strategy for law firms specializing on mergers, internationalization or brand positioning; Has a high activity as a trainer and being director of management programs for lawyers at ESADE Law School. She is author of numerous articles about marketing and management in specialized press, blogger in Expansión.com and co-director of ‘the study of legal sector’ ESADE Law School (January 2011) and the Lawyer of the XXI century (2014). She recently has published her first book Legal Marketing (Ed. Tirant Lo Blanc)