Welcome to episode four of “The Josh Gerben Show.” This is the show where we talk about the business of our profession, the business of law, and basically everything they didn’t teach us in law school about how to run and grow a practice of law.
Sales Tips for Lawyers
Today’s episode discusses one of my all-time favorite topics, sales. It’s sort of a dirty five-letter word in the legal industry. If you tell any lawyer that they need to be a salesperson, it’s sort of like, “Oh, that’s beneath me. I went to three years of law school, and I’m a really smart person, so I don’t do sales.” And for anyone with that attitude, you need to completely leave that at the door.
The lawyers that we most look up to are probably the best salespeople in our profession. What I mean by that is that the partners at law firms that have clients that everybody looks up to, how do you think they’ve gotten those clients? Most of the time it’s through good sales techniques. Or, if you’re aspiring to run and grow your own law practice, how do you think somebody started a law firm and grew it? Through being a good salesperson. If you, as a lawyer, don’t understand the basics of sales, it’s going to be very difficult for you to acquire and keep clients along the way.
Gerben’s Five Fundamentals to Legal Sales
Today, I’ll be going over what I’m calling Gerben’s Five Fundamentals to Legal Sales:
1. The first fundamental is you need to be accessible.
2. The second one is you need to use phone over email.
3. The third is that you need to be a human.
4. The fourth is that you need to be a very good listener and have empathy.
5. And the fifth is that you need to follow up and close.
Let’s go through each one in greater detail.
1. Prioritize accessibility during the sales process
The first is that you need to be extremely accessible during the sales process. This means that if a prospective client calls you, calls your firm and has a question about a potential legal matter, there needs to be a way to get back to that person immediately. Now, you may have a meeting or have something going on, but the very first free moment of your life after that inquiry or lead comes in, you need to get back to that person.
Even if it’s a referral and the person isn’t necessarily shopping around, you need to make the prospective client feel important. Immediately call the person back, even if you get their voicemail. “Oh, I just got your message. I’m so sorry to have missed you. I’ll follow up with an email. We can schedule a time to talk in the next day or so.” Send an email, ask them when they can talk. Give them some times that you’re available. Being super accessible is so important.
I’d like to tell a story about how when I started my law firm, I had my work phone as a cell phone. This way, wherever I was, I could get a call from a prospective client. I remember one particular getaway weekend that stands out in my memory. I had gone to Atlantic City with my wife for the weekend and we were walking around on a Saturday. When my cell phone would ring, I would always pick it up and dive into a store to escape the wind. I would try my best to find a quiet place to see what I could do for that prospective client. I wasn’t going to wait until Monday morning to see who happened to call me while I was away. I was trying to start a business. So, if somebody was going to call and potentially need a trademark, I was going to answer the phone. And that was a huge advantage of mine early on. People would call and always be able to get me.
Many times, I get the feedback that, “Yeah, I’ve called three or four other places, no one picked up the phone.” People don’t leave messages anymore. So, they call, they don’t get anybody, they call the next place. That aggressiveness led to me being able to build a client base very early on.
Right now, this is actually a weakness of our firm. If a prospective client contacts us, it can be a little bit of time before we can get back to them or get a lawyer on the phone with them. And they will call other law firms and get lawyers on the phone quicker than we can get on the phone. We lose business to that now. Now, our law firms a little bit more mature, so we’re not chasing every lead that comes in the door. But for lawyers that don’t get a lot of leads or potential clients, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be super accessible to these people. And that applies throughout the sales process. So even after the first call, you need sometimes some follow up to sell legal work, and sometimes that doesn’t just sell on the first call, right? So, if the prospective client has a question or they email you some information, make it your priority to get back them. It should be a priority over all else.
With an existing client of yours, you can manage expectations. You can say, “You know what, I’m so sorry. I’m going to be 24 hours later in getting back to you than I thought because of X, Y or Z, something came up.” That client’s always going to understand. It’s the prospective client that won’t, because they don’t yet have that rapport with you. They’re not yet committed to you. So, getting right back to them, making them feel comfortable that you’re very good at communication, is going to be critical to getting them to sign up and be a client of yours.
2. Develop relationships by choosing phone over email
The next point is to use phone and not email. This is sort of a supplemental point to the first one, if you will, but it’s so important. Email answers questions and phone calls build relationships.
If a prospective client emails you, and you have a quick answer, and you decide to email them, then great. They got their question answered. But, what’s next in your sales process? If you had picked up the phone and said, “I got your question. Here’s what I’m thinking about that,” you could have developed that relationship with the client right then and there. You have a back and forth, plus they’re hearing your voice. Somebody hearing your voice, getting used to the type of person you are, developing a relationship and trust is critical to someone selecting you as their attorney. This is because when you get selected as an attorney, you’re handling something that’s very important for someone that they clearly can’t handle themselves. The amount of trust they must have in you is significant. The more you can develop a relationship during the sales process, the more likely it is they’re going to select you because you’re the nice friendly voice on the phone as opposed to the guy that’s just shooting them an email back with a simple answer to a question.
I don’t want to necessarily pick on millennials here, but I’m going to a little bit. This is especially a problem for the younger generations. I see it frequently that there’s just this desire to shoot off a quick email and move on to the next thing because it’s just a question and it’s no big deal. But if you call somebody, and you develop that relationship, it means the world sometimes to that person that they’re getting to know you, and it’s going to make bringing them in as a client so much easier.
3. Form connections by being a human
Point three on my list is be a human. What I mean by this is that most lawyers exist in some weird world where they don’t know how to talk to regular human beings anymore. We went through three years of law school, and suddenly, we can’t speak normal English. When you get on the phone with a prospective client, you’re talking in all sorts of technical legal terms to show them how smart you are. And that’s fine if you want to do that a little bit, but make sure you’re being a human, and make sure you explain things in words that people that didn’t go to law school understand. If you’re able to do that, you’re going to find that you can have a much better connection with the prospective client.
Now, the other side to being a human is just learning about the person that could be your client. Instead of just talking about legal matters, you need to find a common interest with this other person. Myself, I have three young kids. One of the first things I always try to find out about somebody is what their family situation is. So, if they’re married and they have a young family, we immediately have a connection. If you’re a parent of a young child, or you have been a parent of a young child, you know that parents have a connection because we’re all going through something that’s rather challenging.
There’s that automatic connection, and people will feel more comfortable with you. One of my favorite calls will be when someone reaches out to me and there’s a screaming baby in the background. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I kind of work from home.” And my first response is, “Well, I have three kids in the other room. If you want me to bring them in, we can have a competition, see who can have the most background noise.” It immediately sets everybody at ease because now they know about my situation too. You know, I’m not some lawyer sitting in an office somewhere that’s soundproof overlooking the city. No, I’m just somebody else. I’m working too. This is my job, and I have kids.
But you may not have kids, right? You could have sports interests, or a hobby. Find out about what your client does for their business, and in their personal life. If you take the time to make a connection with someone, you’re going to be one of the only attorneys they are talking to that does that.
Again, most attorneys are only very interested in answering the legal questions. “This is how much it costs to do this. This is what our representation would look like,” and they keep it in a very formal tone with all these fancy legal terms. How about you just act like you’re having a beer with the person? And I cannot tell you how much of a difference that will make in your sales process. Just be a human. Be normal.
4. Build likability by being a good listener and having empathy
The next point on my list is to be a good listener and to have empathy. This is another thing I think lawyers are terrible at remembering. I cannot tell you how many calls I’ve been on with other attorneys, and they’re just talking. The client will try to jump in and say something, and the lawyer just keeps going. I think in law school, we’re taught to just continue to argue our points.
When you’re talking to a prospective client for a matter like an existing client, you’re not trying to argue with them, you’re not trying to make your point, you’re trying to give them information that they need. That information is going to be very different person to person, so listening is critical. So, I’m a trademark attorney, and for 11 years, I’ve pretty much sold the same service to thousands and thousands of clients. But every single call I’ve ever taken from a prospective client has been slightly different, because everybody has something that’s worrying them. It may be that they went online and they saw a similar trademark, and they’re not sure what to do about it. It may be that they don’t know how long the process takes, and that’s their biggest concern. It may be that they wonder, “Well, once I have my trademark registered, what happens then?” It’s funny because everybody has got these different concerns.
You may have a prospective client that could care less about how long it’s going to take the first few steps to happen, but really worried about what’s going to happen six months from now. Then, you’ll have another client who wants to know what’s going to happen day one, day two, day three, and can’t even begin to think about six months from now. So you really have to listen to what the prospective client is concerned about. In order to understand that, you may have to ask them some questions, and then just be quiet. Let them answer. In negotiations, there’s this idea that you should be quiet, so that the other side will want to just sort of fill the empty space.
I believe that’s true in the sales context, as well. Obviously, you want to talk, you want to provide information, but there’s a point where you just need to be quiet. Let the prospective client fill that empty space, and you will find out what is concerning them and then address that specific concern. Even if you’re concern about their matter is something that’s completely different than what they’re worried about. You need to take care of what they’re worried about before you get to anything else. Because if you can resolve that, you’re much more likely to get them as a client.
The other part of this point is to have empathy. I think that’s also something we lack as lawyers because our whole day is mainly devoted to solving problems. We’re always like, “Oh, yeah, that’s a problem. You should have done that, but now I’ll fix it for you.” Or “Oh, man, I can’t believe they did that. Now I’m gonna have to fix that.” And that attitude pervades to the prospective client when you’re talking to them. So instead, you should stop. Think about the person’s situation. Think about what they didn’t know before the problem occurred and have empathy. Explain that empathy to them and say, “I’m so sorry that happened to you. I understand why this got away, or I understand why you didn’t think that this would be a problem and now it is. And this is something that is not uncommon, and you’re not alone. And we’ve certainly fixed problems like this before, and we can absolutely help you with this one.” Having that little bit of empathy and stopping and explaining that you understand why they would have done something and not making the client feel bad is going to, again, build that trust in you. It’s going to build the likability that you have with the client and they are much more likely to want to use you as their attorney.
5. Follow-up and close by asking for the sale
My final rule of sales is that you need to follow up, and you need to close. There are entire companies that have been created to help salespeople follow up with prospective clients. I’m not suggesting you need to go and spend a whole bunch of money on software. A simple Excel sheet is all you really need. If you talk to somebody or somebody emails you, whatever your communication is, there needs to be a plan to follow up with the person.
In every law practice this is probably going to look a little different. In my practice, if a client calls and talks to someone, typically within 24 to 48 hours, we’re following up again to see if any other questions came up. We know they’re thinking about this, so we want to be in front of them and make sure that if anything has changed in a day or two, we’re on it. We don’t want to be too annoying, so we might go to a week after that. We’ll follow up a little bit further, and then maybe two weeks. Every prospective client could be a little different depending on how ready they seem to get going or how urgent their matter is versus if it’s something they need to hire a lawyer for in three or four months, right?
Regardless, you need to follow up, and you need to do it regularly. I get a lot of pushback, even internally, when I talk about follow up. They say, “Well, if they were interested, they might get back to us.” Oh, no. No, no, no. It’s just not the way it works. If you just wait for people to get back to you, you’re probably not going to not be in business for very long, or you’re not going to develop that client base for your law firm. You need to be aggressive. You need to tell people you’re very interested in being their lawyer, and you think you can really help them.
You need to close. Ask for the sale. Even great salespeople forget this sometimes. You’re talking, you have a great relationship, ask for the sale. Also, as attorneys, we normally need that engagement letter, right? So, you need to have that ready to go, and you need to put it in front of the person so they know what they need to do. Once they sign the engagement letter, once you have the retainer, the whole world changes. Now, they’re in your firm, they’re your client. Now, you have to service them, which is a whole different ballgame. But you don’t have to worry about somebody coming and poaching your client.
We live in a very competitive world. Depending on your type of practice, you may have a handful, you may have dozens of competitors that you have to deal with. When I started my practice, there was maybe a handful. Now, there’s probably hundreds, if not thousands, of competitors for the type of work that we do. In order to stay competitive, there’s several ways you can get ahead. Obviously, price is one, but I always encourage lawyers not to race to the bottom on price. The other way you can really stay competitive is to be extremely good at sales. This is because if a prospective client calls your firm, and they get the red carpet treatment, they get phone calls back, they get a follow up, they get a true interaction with you where you’re learning about each other and you’re learning about their business, you are going to stand out from the crowd. You are going to stand apart from everybody else that just calls them back with a standard cookie cutter response.
I hope you found this episode helpful, and the only thing I ask is that you please leave a comment or review. And, of course, if you found this helpful, please share it with anybody else that you think would find it helpful as well. Thank you so much.