How can we help make more commercially minded lawyers?
As a non-lawyer (I refuse to use the terms fee-earner and non fee-earner, or 'fee-burner' as I heard it called recently), I find it frustrating that many lawyers lack commercial awareness, that is the ability and desire to really talk to clients, find out what they want, what they will do with it, how much they expect to pay and then deliver it that way.
Having worked in many other industries before venturing into law, it was a shock to the system to find that many of my new colleagues had never worked in any other firm, let alone in any other type of business, and those questions were rarely even considered.
The problem is this: the world is changing, fast, and if law firms want to keep up they have to change fast, too. This, as I have discovered from conversations with many firms, is a big ask. The English law firm is almost an institution, things have remained the same for decades: clients come to you, their children come to you, their children’s children come to you. It is this way because that’s the way it has always been. So it is understandable to a degree that the 'it’s worked for a hundred years, why change it now?' attitude exists. The problem is that the rest of the world has moved on.
At my firm we thought we’d found the perfect solution. If we want to educate our lawyers as to the importance of marketing (putting the client at the centre of everything we do), to make them more aware of the need to compete in an increasingly competitive market and give them the tools to do so, we have to catch them young and help them start off on the right track before they develop the 'ivory tower' mentality. So we had the bright idea of having each of our trainees do a seat in Business Development (much like the Gazette's Masked IT Man's suggestion to put trainees in IT for a week). Perfect… except that it's not permitted by the Law Society because it's not legal training, so it cannot constitute part of the legal training contract.
So I would like to start a revolution: let’s get it included in the LPC, and let’s equip these youngsters with the knowledge and skills to understand the competitive market they are entering. Let’s train them to put the client at the heart of everything they do, to be effective networkers – after all, people buy from people. You can technically be the best in your field, but if you can’t look someone in the eye when you speak to them, or you hide behind emails and shy away from people, you’ll never gain their trust. And who wants a solicitor they don’t feel they can trust?
The other reason this would be a good move is that lawyers tend to look backwards, not forwards. Many legal relationships are based on transactional matters, where lawyers perform a necessary task and then may not be needed again for months (or even years, in the case of private individuals). This means that lawyers look at clients in terms of the transaction at hand instead of the lifetime value of the client, and developing a strong and lasting relationship, which will ultimately prove to be more profitable.
So let’s start giving tomorrow’s partners the knowledge and skills to be more commercial and to look at the business of servicing clients – not just practising law.
Lisa Pearson is business development manager for Manchester firm George Davies Solicitors
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