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Two years ago, Shaw Pittman decided to go where few law firms dare to venture — the world of professional sales. It hired José Cunningham. He wasn’t a lawyer. He was a salesman. And a month later, he helped snag what became one of the firm’s biggest clients, a major North American bank. Shaw Pittman’s unorthodox hiring of sales professionals points to a larger trend, says Stephen Huttler, the firm’s managing partner. “The world of law firms is catching up to the way businesses have been operating for a long time,” he says. Faced with increasing competition and consolidation, law firms are taking a fresh look at their revenue-generating capabilities. Some local law offices have gone so far as to hire nonlawyer sales professionals and establish sales departments, while others have created business development departments, which engage in many of the same activities, without using the unsettling S-word. Clients “are looking to a smaller number of law firms to do a greater percentage of their work,” says Huttler. “We see this happening in the world, and we’re trying to structure ourselves to be totally responsive.” Zeughauser Group law firm consultant Norm Rubenstein says increasing competition has forced lawyers to accept a revenue-generating role. “You’ve seen a sea change in the legal marketplace in the last 10 to 15 years,” he says. “There was a time when a law firm had a handful of rainmakers who were extraordinary relationship-builders who tended to bring clients to the firm whose work was done by a network of lawyers throughout the firm.” Some firms are hiring nonlawyer sales professionals to help their lawyers bring in clients and develop existing ones. In 2002, Shaw Pittman hired Cunningham from the outsourcing company Cap Gemini to sell the firm’s “crown jewel” outsourcing practice. Early successes buoyed him to a promotion in January 2003 to chief sales and marketing officer. “We’re doing something very different here at Shaw Pittman,” he says. Giving Cunningham marketing responsibility may have raised eyebrows at other firms, but he doesn’t think Shaw Pittman is starting a revolution. “The culture is going to drive how much change you can really implement,” says Cunningham. “Each firm has to decide on its own how it’s going to market.” Shaw Pittman, with the laid-back culture found among many high-tech firms, was an easy place to experiment, Cunningham says. Indeed, Cunningham and the one other full-time salesman at the firm are paid a commission when they help bring in new business — something D.C. ethics rules permit. “I do believe we are in the forefront and one of the first major firms to be adopting this approach,” says Huttler. The firm, however, refused to identify the impact that a sales-centered approach has had on revenues and Cunningham declined to reveal his compensation. J. Warren Gorrell, chairman of Hogan & Hartson, says he’s not sure hiring nonlawyers in sales is the correct approach for firms. “I would be skeptical of a nonlawyer in a sales capacity trying to market legal services without lawyers who are involved in the practice,” says Gorrell. “Clients want to know who they’re going to be working with.” THE PITCH Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice was receptive to adopting a sales model as well. The firm, which claims on its Web site to be “one of the most technologically advanced” firms on the East Coast, hired a nonlawyer director of sales in August 2001. The firm chose Steven Bell, who was in sales at accounting firm Grant Thornton, to fill the job. “I pick up where marketing leaves off,” says Bell, who is based in Washington, D.C. “I’m the guy on the beachhead, and the lawyers follow.” In addition to identifying and cold calling potential clients, Bell helps Womble Carlyle lawyers develop their own business and turn their relationships into business opportunities. “I’m expected to be at the point of sale,” says Bell, whose staff of four works with lawyers in each of the firm’s nine offices. Bell accompanies lawyers to the “big meeting,” when a client is poised to make a decision on whom to hire. The idea isn’t new. In the informational technology arena, for example, sales professionals frequently accompany tech experts on client calls. The key, Bell says, is focusing on how the firm can solve the client’s problems, rather than trying to impress the client with talk of lawyer pedigrees or highly regarded practice groups. Of course, there are ethical restrictions on what nonlawyer sales professionals can do. In some jurisdictions, letters to potential clients must be labeled “solicitation,” and, unlike in D.C., fee sharing between lawyers and nonlawyers is not allowed. Other firms have taken a more traditional approach. For example, Patton Boggs in 2000 hired lawyer Mark Cowan as a partner and director of business development. He isn’t billing time practicing law, but instead is pounding the pavement for new business for the firm. Cowan, who has 30 years of legal and business experience, says he has legal knowledge that can be helpful in a client pitch and more clout than a nonlawyer with the client and with the partners trying to snag that client. “You’re a peer with your partners,” he says. “And you’re able to deal with them as a peer rather than as a staff person.” Cowan approaches potential clients and accompanies lawyers on client calls. He also conducts a three-day, off-site “selling skills seminar” to teach Patton Boggs lawyers how to be more effective salesmen themselves. “A lot of lawyers make the mistake of spending more time talking about themselves rather than the potential client and their problems,” he says. THE COACH While Patton Boggs conducts training in-house, other firms seek outside help in training their lawyers in sales. Arlington, Va.-based Michael O’Horo makes a living doing just that. O’Horo claims to have trained more than 2,000 lawyers in sales techniques. His job, he says, is to get lawyers to “drink the Kool-Aid.” In 1992, Jay Jaffe, president of legal marketing firm Jaffe Associates, approached O’Horo, who was selling sports sponsorships, with a question: How do you help lawyers who have ample relationships in the business world convert business contacts to clients? O’Horo started Lawyers’ Edge Services Inc. in 1992 with Jaffe, who later left the venture, now re-named Sales Results Inc. O’Horo’s goal is to convince lawyers that they already have all of the necessary skills to effectively sell their services. “What really turns them off is the idea that they have to be the cultural stereotype of a salesman,” says O’Horo. “Once they realize that they already have all the skills they need, then they’re not as intimidated.” O’Horo, who calls himself “The Coach,” gives the lawyers he trains a wallet-sized card. On one side, 10 steps of practicing law and counseling a client are listed. One the other side are the 10 steps to “practicing sales.” The steps are the same on each side. “Sell exactly as you practice law,” the card reads. “You proceed logically, establish foundation and earn the right to advance. The client is engaged at each step and advances with you.” O’Horo says lawyers do too much telling and not enough asking in client pitch situations. “If I tell you all about me, and then I give you advice, how well grounded is that advice?” he asks. A partner at a 500-lawyer New York law firm called O’Horo when he was preparing to make a big pitch. The partner, who spoke on condition of anonymity, wanted to approach the client in the more traditional manner, using a team of the firm’s best lawyers. “I wanted to show the firm’s expertise and responsiveness by showing up with a team of people,” he says. “I thought that’s how we put our best foot forward.” But O’Horo told him to “put yourself in the background and talk with the client about their needs,” says the partner. They “fought bitterly” over the approach, but the partner gave in and made the pitch alone. It worked. “My instinct was completely wrong,” the partner says. Not every firm is hiring a sales coach like O’Horo, but many are finding their own ways to institutionalize some elements of a sales culture. For example, several firms, including Shaw Pittman; Morgan, Lewis & Bockius; and Pillsbury Winthrop have developed client service teams made up of partners, marketing staff, and sales or business development staff. Each team is dedicated to one client and headed by the partners with relationships with the client. San Francisco-based Pillsbury was one of the first firms to start formal client teams. Mary Lynne Price, the firm’s director of business development, says that after the 2000 merger of Pillsbury Madison & Sutro with Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts, the new firm needed to reorganize to “better understand our client base.” Robert Stern, general counsel of facilities management company Sodexho Marriott, which employs several law firms and is constantly pitched by others, says he appreciates a sales approach that focuses more on the company’s needs. “I’m very impressed when firms do a lot of homework on their own initiative and come in with a little inkling of what our issue or our problem is,” he says. “That gets big credit from me.” In fact, Stern says, a structured sales approach would not put him off. But, he cautions, “what I do mind is when it gets to be persistent and intrusive.” THE FUTURE The large majority of firms still haven’t embraced a sales approach, and some may avoid it altogether. And even the professionals who have done so say it isn’t for everyone. Womble Carlyle’s Bell says firms should be careful in starting sales departments and hiring nonlawyers to do the job. If the culture isn’t receptive and the lawyers aren’t on board, it could have unintended consequences. “It will harm their culture,” he says. “And beyond that, the culture can drive out the sales people. It’s a mismatch.” He says the firm’s leaders ensured “all the battles were fought and all the debates were done before I set foot in the door.” Rubenstein of the Zeughauser Group says most firms still have far to go before they can start sophisticated sales and business development departments, just as it took time for firms to see the need for nonlawyer marketing professionals. “I do not believe most firms are ready to delegate the lead development responsibility to business professionals, whether they are lawyers or not,” says Rubenstein, who was San Francisco-based Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe’s first chief marketing officer. Pillsbury’s Price says she thinks training the lawyers to close a sale themselves is likely the direction her firm will take. “We feel like it’s going to become such a part of doing business at law firms that we need to develop those skills internally,” Price says.

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