Legal Sales

Legal sales is an emerging field in law firms, and you couldn’t have hoped for a more experienced panel speaking about it at the recent LMA conference. The panel members were: David C. Burkhardt, Client Service Director at Wyrick Robbins; Sheila Ardalan Chief Operating Officer at Summit LA; Jonathan Mattson, Director of Business Development at Baker & Hostetler; and Catherine Zinn, Chief Client Officer at Orrick.

It’s a growing trend among large firms, and we’re now starting to see it among smaller firms as well. By legal sales, we mean a non-lawyer who is client-facing – someone who is going out and opening doors for the firm’s partners and other attorneys to bring in new business. Twenty percent of the Am Law 100 has at least one person in this capacity.

When it comes to having a salesperson, firms need to think about the role of sales versus marketing. It is generally agreed that marketing concerns itself with creating awareness; sales is about creating relationships.

Sometimes there’s a tension between marketing and sales because the salesperson has more visibility and you can draw a more direct correlation between bringing in business (or the salesperson opening the door to bring in business) than you can with marketing.

There’s this tension because marketing may feel that sales is getting all the glory.

This panel emphasized the fact that sales could not do their job without marketing and that the marketing engine always needs to be going in order for sales to be successful.

Sales can also be in competition with the partners in terms of generating new business. The salesperson needs to be somebody (and this gets into the terms of what makes a successful salesperson) who is resilient, willing to be in the shadows and willing to let the partners have the glory. They need to be energized by making other people successful.

It’s difficult to say what’s going to make a successful salesperson in a legal environment. Some have industry backgrounds, but that doesn’t necessarily make them successful salespeople. They not only have to be a good salesperson, they have to be someone who can create humor, who can lighten the situation and be resilient. And be someone who, when networking, poses “intentional” questions that draw people out, such as “What’s your role at your firm?” and “What brings you here today?

Effective legal salespeople also understand that research is the gateway to business development. Knowing as much as possible about prospects and clients prior to meeting with them can help direct sales conversations and is critical to bringing in new business and expanding current relationships.

In terms of compensation, there’s no fee-sharing in law firms, so the compensation is usually some sort of bonus program (typically 20%-30%) above salary.

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