Law: Teaching solicitors to sell: A law firm's product and its sales force are the same thing: its lawyers. Now fee earners are learning to market their firms, says Sharon Wallach

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The Independent Online
A growing trend within law firms is the integration of training with marketing strategies. Marketing personnel are working increasingly closely with trainers to ensure that their goals coincide.

Clare Rodway, the marketing manager of the West End firm Brecher & Co, confirms the trend. 'I work very closely with our director of education, for instance on internal and external seminars,' she says. He is very keen on that bulwark of a solid marketing philosophy, client care, on one occasion persuading a real client to take part in role play sessions for fee earners.

Ms Rodway has developed her own brand of the marketing and education mix. With the support of the firm's business development partner, she has introduced brainstorming sessions whose aim is to help fee earners learn about marketing the firm. 'We wanted to provide a forum for them,' she says. 'It's largely aimed at junior partner and assistant solicitor level. On the whole, the more senior partners don't appear, because their presence might be inhibiting.'

The sessions are held in a deliberately relaxed and informal atmosphere, with some 15 or 20 participants each time. 'The brief is kept wide,' Ms Rodway says. 'We encourage the fee earners to ask questions about marketing, to share their bright ideas, to talk about their successes and attempts to develop business, but also their stumbling blocks. That's why we have to get the atmosphere right. It's important that people are not afraid to open up about their problems.'

A powerful motive behind the sessions is for a dialogue to be developed that will, hopefully, narrow the gulf between the lawyers and the marketing side of the law business. 'Some people would say that the background cultures of the marketing and the legal disciplines are opposed,' Ms Rodway says. There is a common misconception of the marketing role that needs to be addressed. 'I am not a salesman. I don't meet clients. The salesmen are those who are in the market place doing business on a daily basis. A lot of people think my job is to come in and sell, but it's not. I am at arm's length so I have to rely on the fee earners to feed back to me what the client wants.

'They are actually the sales force. My job is to point them in the right direction, provide proper back-up such as press profiles and literature and give them information on the firm's unique selling point. Their job is to go out and sell.' In contrast to a manufacturing company, a law firm's product and its sales force are one and the same thing: its lawyers. It is radical to talk about lawyers as sales people, she concedes, but adds: 'It is a very important concept to get across to them.'

With this in mind, the first brainstorming session examined the fee earner's role in a marketing function. 'Once a regular dialogue was set, we began getting a very strong message from fee earners about what they wanted by way of help in spotting and handling specific sales opportunities. So the sessions began to focus on 'selling the firm'.

'We began with a familiar scenario: the firm's client seminars and the informal chatting afterwards. We used them to describe, on a very basic level, how to get into conversations, how to broach the subject of business and how to look out for opportunities to sell the firm, and then follow them up.'

As might be expected, the fee earners show mixed ability in the sales area. 'To some, selling comes naturally, and they do it successfully; others need more help. It's all about learning to take control of a conversation, staying relaxed and not appearing to sell.'

The next brainstormer concentrated on sales techniques and the pitch itself. Step one is to spot an opportunity and get the potential client to express a need in some form, according to Ms Rodway. Step two is effective probing, active listening, acquiring pointers to the questions the salesman/lawyer should be asking, such as what is the potential client's relationship with his existing lawyer. Then with the information gleaned, he or she can judge how to pitch the sale.

The third step is to extol the virtues of the firm. The point here is to learn ways of focusing on those features of the firm of direct benefit to the client. 'It's an important subtle switch,' she says, 'from thinking of things the client wants to ways in which the firm can help.'

Finally comes the question of getting some kind of commitment from the potential client, or at least an opportunity of following up his interest. 'At the latest session, we invited people to describe selling sessions they had been involved in and 'pat' phrases they used to describe the firm - for example, one person said that the firm's USP is that it is partner-led. The point was to analysis what people actually say when they are selling. The styles of individual fee earners is very different; they describe the same things in different ways, and so get different types of clients. For example, to entrepreneurial clients you might say: 'I'll perform'.'

Brechers' partnership director, Leon Sterling, is very encouraging about the brainstorming sessions, she says. 'He agrees that this kind of training will increasingly make a tangible different to fee earners' ability to spot opportunities for business and bring work in.'

(Photograph omitted)

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