Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers. – Voltaire
As a legal educator and observer with a marketing background, I believe many new graduates fail to understand the significance of relationship building.
More and more we see proponents of the use of technology for success in practice. You will find article after article about how you need to use social media to market yourself to be successful. That the practice of law is changing and you need to adapt or perish.
For several years, I have sent my student into the field to interview practitioners in an attempt to better understand how to prepare an effective business plan for themselves. They engage senior counsel as well as new “start-ups” and the majority of them report that the experienced attorneys get most of their business by “word of mouth” referrals. By the same token, they report that the more recent graduates in solo practice are obtaining clients through social media or other more creative means. But the majority of their business is not through word of mouth referrals like the senior attorneys.
Now, I am not a Luddite as I believe in using technology as a means to enhance your ability to compete and maximize your efficiency in practice. But take that technology that allows you to reach many potential clients far more efficiently that before the internet and add an important human element to help you close the sale. And one means of converting a “potential client” to a “paying client” is to listen to them. Now, you may be thinking that that is obvious. But, too many attorneys spend 80% of the time talking and 20% of the time listening when it should be the other way around. What is your conversion rate? That is, how many of your prospects do you actually close?
Try this exercise the next time you have a potential client come to you seeking your services. Ask them to tell you about themselves. As they do, ask them to “go on” or “tell me more about that” so that you have them disclosing more and more information about themselves or their family. As they are doing that, make mental note of any linkages that parallel your own background or experiences.
For estate planning clients, I tell my students to ask their client to tell the student about themselves. As they do, find something that you can tell the client that is true about yourself. “You have a dog, I have a dog.” “Your father was in the Air Force, I was in the Air Force.” And, so forth. The minute you draw the parallel in your life, you will be more like one another than before you met.
Another exercise I use in class is to ask all of my new students to tell everyone about themselves, and where they are from. I also ask them to tell us something that would surprise us about them. As they do this, I make mental notes about each of them and how something or someone in my background has a connection to the information they just disclosed. It is rare that a student won’t say something that triggers a common point of interest or intersection with my life experiences in some way. At the conclusion of their descriptions, I make those connections and they are often surprised by how many similarities I can draw from their brief descriptions to my own life. If I haven’t made a connection, I comment on the “surprise” that they revealed. When I do this, I acknowledge how they have drawn my interest and how it has changed my perception of them.
At times, I just have the students listen to me as all the words I will speak describe me. I begin; Catholic, 11 siblings, private pilot, sales of farm machinery, Indiana Hoosier, Purdue, Air Force, Australian Shepherd, Sacramento, Viet Nam, guitarist, and so forth. These are all words which relate to facts which are pertinent to my background and I could go on. I tell them that if I were in an auditorium and asked the members of the audience to raise their hands when I say a word that triggers something familiar in their background, within 5 minute or so, I would have everyone in the audience with their hand in the air.
The reason this is significant is that, as an attorney, your practice is all about building relationships. After saying this series of words to my students, I ask if they see me in a way that is different from before I spoke. I have painted a picture of me which they hadn’t seen and once I hit home with a word that correlates with something in their background, the chances are that they will perceive me as more like them. Once I comment on some aspect of their personal lives, I have validated them in a sense. With that, a sterile acquaintance has begun to relate to me in a way that did not exist before I made a connection. I am building relationships and not just filling out a questionnaire.
With technology as a tool, we can reach far more individuals who might seek our services. We can use technology to service greater numbers of clients than ever before. But, often the best source of business can be clients who we have served before who will, through “word of mouth” tell others about us. But their mouths will never speak of us or parlay our services for others unless we have established a bond or relationship. Just listen, I think I hear my business growing . . . .