Lawyers Won’t Sell Until They’re Sold: How Marketers Can Address Business Development Reluctance

The Market Leaders Podcast

...a book of business is the price of admission for influence.

Because firms want their lawyers to develop business, they often look to their marketing, business development, and professional development departments to provide relevant training and coaching. In fact, a recent market-wide survey indicates that 84% of North American law firms require their marketing/BD professionals to provide business development coaching to their lawyers. Unfortunately, these efforts are usually deemed to be ineffective. Another study showed that only 19% of firms attribute any ROI to internal coaching they receive from their legal marketers. This is primarily because the marketers haven’t sold them on the concept of business development.

To put this in traditional sales terms, if your product is BD coaching and your prospects are lawyers, you won’t have qualified leads until your prospects express interest in your product. And most lawyers do not express interest in business development or anything else that might distract them from billable work unless their self-preservation depends on it. This means your prospects will likely push back with objections such as, “I don’t have time to meet with you regarding BD.” As any good salesperson will tell you, when your prospects show reluctance to buy, you must be able to counter their objections effectively. Here are the top 4 most common objections you will encounter, and how to respond to them.

1. “I don’t have time.”

By far the most popular complaint among lawyers, this objection is also understandable. Fortunately, you can alleviate much of this burden by managing the organizational and administrative tasks involved. Schedule monthly meetings with each lawyer to review their pipelines. Help lawyers keep track of prospects using a simple task management or pipeline management system (rather than CRM, which lawyers rarely use). Ask them to send emails, make calls, and schedule lunches with prospects during this meeting, while you have a captive audience. Focus on activities that are easy to implement (e.g. happy hour with a client) rather than time-intensive endeavors like article-writing or conference attendance. After the meeting with your lawyer, update their pipeline with new activities and notes so you can follow up on the lawyer’s progress.

2. “I have enough work on my plate, I don’t need more.”

Most lawyers are in some degree of denial about their future at the firm. The fact is that unless they make business development a priority early in their career, they will find themselves bumping up against a glass ceiling when the topic of equity partnership comes due. Frame this conversation with your lawyers in terms of career enhancement. It’s possible that they don't’ want to become rainmakers, in which case they can forgo business development altogether. But a book of business is the price of admission for influence.

3. “I don’t know where to start.”

This is another valid consideration among many lawyers. After all, they don’t teach sales in law school. However, many lawyers erroneously believe that business development requires casting a wide net, pursuing an unreasonable number of opportunities, and attempting to broker deals with people who are more or less unwilling or disinterested.

This is certainly not the case. Filling a pipeline with too many tenuous opportunities is not only time-consuming and stressful, it’s also ineffective. To address this concern, ask lawyers to follow Darryl Cross’s advice and identify 5 clients, 5 prospects, and 5 referral sources from whom they are most likely to obtain new business. Strengthening these 15 relationships is not only manageable; it leads to authentic dialogues within which lawyers can identify their contacts’ legal needs.

...lawyers need to believe in their product and go into a sales dialogue with the intention to help.

4. “The idea of doing sales makes me feel sleazy.

You probably won't be able to get lawyers to voice this concern out loud, but it’s likely that they have some level of discomfort with the idea of business development if they show ongoing reluctance. The 3 methods above will work with the few lawyers who are willing to at least try, but to elicit willingness among the rest, there needs to be a sea change in the way lawyers perceive business development. The very word “sales” is taboo because it evokes ideas of pushy sales reps who will say anything to make a deal, even if it’s not in their prospect’s best interests. And if our industry can’t even use the word “sales” without flinching, it’s no wonder lawyers are reluctant to dedicate time to it. 

To be effective, lawyers need to believe in their product and go into a sales dialogue with the intention to help. In the words of Jim Durham, “when lawyers think about these people as friends rather than targets, they start to understand that sales is not some bad thing they’re doing. They’re calling on their prospects because they care and want to help.” 


[David Ackert is a business development mentor to lawyers and their firms. Through his companies at Ackert Inc., he provides coaching and technology solutions that originate clients and generate growth.]

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The Market Leaders Podcast

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