The LSSO Raindance 2019 Conference was one of the best conferences I’ve attended in quite some time.

It was a combination of being surrounded by fellow client-facing and client service professionals from whom I learned so much, an engaging speaker lineup with new faces and creative formats, and a general buzz around the future of legal sales professionals in our industry.

...a legal sales executive’s role easily translates to added value for both internal and external clients

I left Chicago feeling reenergized, and ready to return to the office with new ideas to implement immediately. As I approach my first anniversary in an officially client-facing role in my firm, I was overjoyed to meet so many other professionals who are fully focused on client service strategies, the client experience, and changing our law firm cultures to fit the needs of our most important audience: our clients.

Attending LSSO helped to solidify and reinforce something that I have been preaching for some time now: a legal sales executive’s role easily translates to added value for both internal and external clients of a law firm.

  • For internal clients, we save our attorneys precious billable time by initially making connections with prospects or solidifying existing firm relationships, vetting any initial problems to see if the firm can handle the issue from a capacity and conflicts perspective, and then help to pass a warm lead to the attorney who will best fit the needs of the client. As coaches, we help to make our attorneys understand legal sales strategies that work best for them and bring comfort during pitches and meetings.
  • For the firm’s external clients, we act as astute listeners, ask the right questions and have an intellectual curiosity to understand our clients and their businesses, and are able to take the time to cultivate relationships and remain a point of contact throughout their engagements. We have a wide lens of the firm, its capabilities, the personalities and workloads of our attorneys, and have the priviledge of acting as the voice of the client to ensure our firms deliver paramount client service.

A Fishbowl Discussion: The Secret About Legal Sales Roles...

...is that they’re not actually skinny at all.

I’ve seen plenty of non-traditional program formats that break the mold of talking heads on a dais (from the ever-popular TED Talk to well-rehearsed Pecha Kucha and more), but two new styles struck me at Raindance.

The first was the kickoff session, “Demystifying Sales & Service Roles in Law Firms Today.” This was done in a “Fishbowl Conversation” style, wherein a table with five seats was placed in the center of the room, and four panelists were seated with a moderator roaming the audience.

The concept was to facilitate just that - a conversation - amongst the four panelists and when someone from the audience had something to contribute or a question to ask to redirect the conversation, he/she could take a seat at the empty chair and join in. This allowed for a very engaged, interactive dialogue that pulled on the brain trust of everyone in the room.

The conversation was expertly moderated by Beth Cuzzone of Goulston & Storrs and joined by Stephanie Hinrichs of Womble Bond Dickinson, Neel Lilani of Orrick, Hans Haglund of Eversheds Sutherland, and David Bowerman of K&L Gates to kickstart the dialogue.

Perspectives from tenured to brand new sales roles, small to large firms, and everything in between shone light on the vast array of experiences and willingness to share successes, failures, and points of contention amongst the group and the industry at large. Key takeaways were:

  • There were far more client-facing roles in the room than I expected. Those who were not fully dedicated to being client-facing openly discussed the percentage of their responsibilities that allowed them time with clients, most often involved with client feedback interviews;
  • We are not alone in experiencing snafus with handing off warm leads to attorneys after careful vetting and relationship-building, only to see the deal crumble due to a lack of coaching or client service technique - we must remain connected to the relationship to ensure no one drops the ball;
  • It was advised that those in partially client-facing roles do their best to ingratiate themselves with clients in ways that are available to them - forming relationships at hosted events, asking smart questions and learning about their businesses - to best position themselves to move into a role where they are trusted professionals with a proven track record;
  • Different sales tactics and strategies, compensation models, team sizes and structures, and other coveted details were freely discussed, most varying by firm size and length of time with a formal sales function - there was no “one size fits all” structure across the roles;
  • The audience was reminded time and time again that we are the “dot connectors” and the “matchmakers,” and the value those roles bring to those who are in billable functions within our firms - having a wide lens of the firm’s capabilities and the personalities that make up each team brings a vast amount of efficacy when prospecting;
  • The importance of a strong alignment with firm management (most reporting directly or indirectly to an office managing partner) was highlighted as imperative to the success of a sales role within a firm, regardless of size, and the need to work seamlessly alongside marketing while a separate function - one cannot exist without the other.

If You’ve Seen One GC Panel, You’ve Seen Them All… Until Now

The other creative format was, surprisingly, the GC panel. I’ve heard more than one colleague say something along the lines of, “if you’ve seen one GC panel, you’ve seen them all,” but the rapid-fire questioning format at Raindance was unique.

Each of the four in-house counsel (Dennis Garcia of Microsoft, Christine Castellano of Ingredion Incorporated, Steven Heinrichs of Mueller Water Products, and Edward Paulis of Zurich North America) answered a series of True or False, multiple choice and open-ended questions, formatted into three rounds.

After each gave their quick answers to the questions, there was a pause for audience members to probe further into any set of answers they found needed more explanation. This led to an engaging fact pattern, quick pace, and avoided the propensity for any panelist to get off track. The biggest takeaways from this section were:

  • All four GCs stated that they would happily take a meeting with a business professional to learn more about a firm or practice and to vet their initial problem - factual evidence to quell attorneys’ concerns that only they should go on pitch meetings;
  • three out of four stated that if they don’t like a lawyer’s work product, attitude or service, they simply stop working with them (rather than talking to them about improving); each admitted that the solicitation of feedback would divert that, and the majority said they would prefer an in-person client feedback interview over a written form;
  • All four GCs stated that they have all made the decision to hire outside counsel directly corrolated to reading a thought leadership piece - proof from the horse’s mouth that content marketing works;
  • When asked what the easiest way for someone who doesn’t have a connection to them would be to get a foot in the door, they responded with a combination of an interest in getting to know their business, direct communication through LinkedIn or an offer to have them join outside counsel on a panel of relevance, as well as a reference from a trusted colleague through ACC or a similar group;
  • The panelists listed the biggest missteps in outside counsel submitting RFPs as failure to include a meaningful budget, a “bait and switch” regarding D&I requirements, and a lack of data security enforcement - they also said their preferred mode of referral for outside counsel is from other GCs’ recommendations (so try not to burn bridges);
  • All of the panelists stated that they do not read lengthy annual reports (that marketing departments slave over to create), nor any 18-page memos from outside counsel - they emphasized efficiencies, brevity, and tailored content were key to keeping their business and standing out from the crowd.

Other sessions of note included a mini-hackathon focused on diversity and inclusion and the role of the internal business and client development professionals in ensuring our firms prioritize what clients are asking for; a panel with Big Four client experience discussions from KPMG and Microsoft; a session focused on female rainmakers; one shared examples of innovative client experience and pipeline tracking dashboards that translate to measurable successes; and the conference even highlighted the successes of legal sales executives and teams within firms of various sizes in an effort to advocate for the sales function within firms in the industry.

After this impressive lineup, LSSO Raindance will surely be on my annual list of must-attend conferences for the foreseeable future.

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Jenna Schiappacasse is Director of Client Development at Rosenberg Martin Greenberg LLP. Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow for her latest writing on JD Supra.

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