BigLaw sales debate in the spotlight again

In “Is it time for law firms to deploy sales teams?”, his recent article in Bloomberg BigLaw Business, Aric Press, former Editor-in-Chief of The American Lawyer, and now a partner at PP&C Consulting, raised an important question about how the sales function is organized and resourced in BigLaw firms.

This question is a theme on Dialogue and was a major feature in Chapter 8 of Remaking Law Firms: Why & How, so I welcome this new post from John Grimley, advocate-in-chief for BigLaw Firms to embrace professional sales forces.

Big4 increasingly utilizing sales forces

Aric “Press detailed how Big4 accounting firm PwC has opened a law practice in Washington, DC, that utilizes a “vast sales force”. Sales forces, as Press details, are one example of a series of competitive pressures BigLaw firms currently face. He notes how “sales, at least at some law firms, has become a useful term to trigger debates about the future of client relationships and who controls them.”

Sales forces do the work rainmaker partners don’t have time to do

An effective sales process” Press details “tends to be a long-term effort and one that in concept at least is not entirely foreign to the ways in which law firms operate. They’re doing what a talented law firm rainmaker or relationship partner is supposed to be doing, if only they had the time.”

Sales teams remain rare within law firms and are unlikely to be adopted

As Press explains: “Independent sales teams remain rare within law firms. By now everyone has heard about Womble Carlyle’s efforts to build a sustained sales force.” As I’ve detailed previously, BigLaw firms DLA Piper, Baker & McKenzie and Patton Boggs (now Squire Patton Boggs) have also utilized sales divisions.

Press goes on to explain how sales divisions in the Big4 were initially resisted but now flourish.  And how law firms remain unlikely to adopt sales divisions. “They are expensive and by all accounts culturally challenging”, he notes.  But he concludes that due to market pressures firms will either need to adopt partner led BD initiatives inspired by sales division practices, “or admit that sales are too important to be left to their partners.”

How to integrate a sales division into your law firm

I have previously addressed the issues of the why, how and who of law firms sales divisions in some detail. In 2014, K&L Gates Chief Marketing Officer Jeff Berardi wrote about the challenges to adopting law firm sales divisions in JD Supra, and I responded to each of his points in detail here on here on Dialogue. In that post, I explained how law firms can compensate sales professionals and how sales professionals can be integrated effectively into virtually any law firm culture. It’s important to note, too, that law firms sales divisions quickly become profit centers, and are not an expense, except in the short term.

Who to hire to sell your legal services

The title of Press’ article – Who Will Sell a Law Firm’s Services? – is a reference to whether it will be partners or a sales division doing the selling. This issue has also been previously addressed in detail. In 2013, Steve Bell, head of marketing and sales for Womble Carlyle (now Womble Bond Dickinson (whom Press identifies as a firm championing law firm sales) published a post in response to one of mine detailing the key characteristics of a law firm sales professional.  Bell wrote: “John Grimley has hit the nail on the head. I love the skills list. He speaks the truth, so much so that this post is just a reposting of what HE said.  Everything about John’s post is 100% on target.” The post he re-blogged (now housed in Asia Law Portal) is titled: Sales divisions, not lateral hiring – are the best avenue to BigLaw growth. There you’ll find a detailed description of who the ideal law firm salesperson is.

The Big4 have adopted sales divisions, so too should BigLaw

The accounting profession, after some debate, institutionalized sales divisions and now utilize them to harness growth and compete with BigLaw. NewLaw giant Axiom Law and others are also doing the same. Therefore, it’s time for BigLaw firms to recognize the business reality that taking profitable partners away from the practice of law into the need to develop business, dilutes a firm’s ability to generate more revenue and profit from their high-value practices, and places them at a competitive disadvantage against the Big4 and NewLaw. Properly adopted and deployed, sales divisions will increase BigLaw revenue and profitability, and fend off and defeat competitors including the Big4 and NewLaw.

More on this topic…

Aric Press: ‘Who will sell a law firm’s services‘ on Dialogue on November 17, 2017.

Mike O’Horo: ‘Rudderless ships‘ on Dialogue on February 2, 2017.

Author

John Grimley is the founder and publisher of Asia Law Portal. John provides custom communications services to professional services firms operating in international markets, including writing and editing, research, social media, business development and media relations strategy and management.

John is the author of A Comprehensive Guide to the Asia-Pacific Legal Markets, a hallmark publication that defines John as a leading authority on all things related to services in the Asia-Pacific.

 

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Mike O\'Horo
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John Grimley and I have had many discussions about this topic over the past dozen years or so. I share his belief that professional sales teams make good business sense, and I also recognize the longstanding resistance common to law firms.

I see only three paths for law firms going forward:

1) Division of labor, i.e., teaming up a full-time sales pro with a senior lawyer. The sales pro manages the lead-generation and decision processes; the lawyer provides technical/domain expertise and solution credibility. This model has been hugely successful throughout the enterprise software industry for 30 years.

2) Train all the firm’s lawyers to sell, or to make sales-support contributions. If you don’t want sales pros, and cling to the idea of partners generating all the revenue, get serious and train them to be good at it. It’s bad enough that they’re doing it part-time, and only occasionally, but without skills? C’mon. That can’t work.

3) Do neither and go out of business. Your volunteer, part-time, untrained, amateur “saleslawyers” will never outperform competitors who deploy full-time professionals or lawyers with real skills and reliable processes.

George Beaton
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Mike / John it seems so obvious. Is either of you aware of a trial of professional sales people in a traditional professional services firm? While difficult in practice (e.g. which firm/s are going to volunteer, who would pay for the personnel involved?), it’s not inconceivable. The alternative, and more practical, approach is to ask why so few firms have tried to make the model work? In our Remaking Law Firms book, through an interview with David Worley, we describe the success of PWC in the US with a dedicated professional sales force. Look no further for evidence. We’d love to hear from others on this.