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When Catherine MacDonagh asks lawyers what images come to mind when she says the word “salesman,” she gets a variety of responses, few of them flattering. In the word-association game she plays with the lawyers whom she trains to become better at selling their services, MacDonagh hears answers such as “used cars,” “pushy” and “misleading.” MacDonagh, an attorney and a business development director at Day, Berry & Howard of Hartford, Conn., also is the director of the Legal Sales and Service Organization, a trade group. “Is it any wonder they don’t think of themselves as salespeople?” she said. But perhaps they should. An increasing number of law firms across the country are hiring business development professionals to help them find potential clients and win their business. Distinct from traditional marketers who work on firm branding, brochures, seminars and community networking, business developers take a more targeted approach involving what she and others in her profession call the “S-word”: sales. It is a method that requires attorneys to add a little hustle to their skill set. And it also requires change that often does not come easy. “In the sales context, [lawyers] are out of their comfort zone,” MacDonagh said. “When these folks get out of the comfort zone is not when they shine.” MacDonagh’s group, Legal Sales and Service Organization, was founded in 2003. It focuses on law firm sales and client services and has 250 subscribers to its Web site. The group also has about 50 members, most of whom are business developers. Going in-house Some firms have hired consultants to pinpoint potential clients and educate attorneys on how to make a pitch. Others have retooled their marketing departments to produce more business development work. Many, however, are hiring their own in-house sales professionals, often from other professional services firms, who work directly with attorneys to determine where potential business is and how to snag it. Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, for example, reorganized its marketing structure a year ago and also added development personnel. “We concluded that we had created a lot of individuals [in marketing] who were a jack of all trades and a master of none,” said Francis Milone, the Philadelphia-based chairman of Morgan Lewis. With 1,221 attorneys and 18 offices, the firm decided to divide its marketing operations into three divisions: traditional marketing support, public external communications and business development. During the past year, it has hired eight business developers to work with specific practice groups, such as litigation, intellectual property and finance. The developers are “intimately familiar” with their specific practice group, Milone said, and they help attorneys determine the needs of potential clients, the volume of potential business, the law firms those prospects currently use and other areas of demand. Milone explained that, in some cases, developers accompany attorneys to meetings with potential clients. The new method is gaining ground at Morgan Lewis, he said, and is effective in practice groups where the attorneys leading the other lawyers are themselves comfortable in the sales role and are willing to work as a team with business developers. But change takes time, he said. “You need a few situations where it works well, then people begin to sign up,” he noted. Milone said restructuring Morgan Lewis’ marketing department was part of the firm’s efforts to take more control over the sales of its services. Attorneys who are especially talented at closing deals often are brought in to work with those attorneys responsible for originating the potential business, he explained. “We really don’t let our people decide who goes on a pitch,” he said, adding that experienced partners who are able to translate legal principles into practical language for the clients make the best closers. Resisting evolution Business development is part of an evolution in law firm marketing, said Stephen Nelson, principal of The McCormick Group, a recruiter and consultancy. He added that law firms, generally conservative in their marketing strategies, have lagged behind the accounting industry and other professional services firms. “They’ve done all the brochures, they’ve done all the branding, they’ve done all marketing. Now, it’s a more revenue-oriented approach,” Nelson said. Firms not only want to acquire more clients when they hire developers, but they also want to bring in more money to keep their top talent satisfied so that they will stay put, Nelson said. But many attorneys, at least at first, resist the idea of using a nonlawyer-most developers are not attorneys-to help them woo clients. At Dallas-based Jackson Walker, some of its lawyers groused when the 310-attorney firm decided to have its marketing officer focus more on business development, said partner Mike Haggerty. The greatest challenge, Haggerty said, was for Jackson Walker attorneys to accept the interaction of the firm’s nonlawyer business developer, John Crawford, with potential clients to help get their business. Much of Crawford’s job at Jackson Walker is monitoring different industries for trends, emerging companies and related business. In addition, he arranges and attends networking events and makes sure that the right attorneys connect with potential clients. He will follow up by prompting attorneys to contact potential clients. He also attends some of those follow-up lunch and dinner meetings, Haggerty explained. Although some attorneys did not welcome a nonlawyer’s involvement, he said, skepticism has diminished as Crawford continues working with clients. “We’ve really overcome that by example,” he said. “They saw how he interacts with clients and potential clients.” But it is not enough that the business developers themselves be good schmoozers. They need to pass on those skills to the attorneys. And the most important lesson lawyers need to learn is to listen, said MacDonagh. When they sit down with potential clients, attorneys usually do most of the talking, frequently going on about information that the prospect could get from the firm’s Web site, she said. “Most lawyers are very inclined to go right into sales mode,” she said. “They need to be in listen mode.” She advises attorneys to conduct themselves as counselors rather than advocates, and she also gives them pointers on what kinds of questions to ask. Building attorneys’ confidence when they are shopping for prospects is another important component of most developers’ jobs, MacDonagh said. While experienced attorneys generally are comfortable with their knowledge of their practice area, she said, their self-assurance can evaporate when they have to convince the would-be client to give them the business. “Their behavior changes,” MacDonagh said. ‘Elevator pitch’ Attorney Ronna West Cross said she was not prepared to pitch her services as a beginning associate litigator at Ruberto, Israel & Weiner in Boston, where MacDonagh previously worked as a developer. With MacDonagh’s help, Cross improved her client networking skills and more, she said. One technique she learned was the “elevator pitch.” “It’s how you introduce yourself,” Cross explained. She learned that a name, rank and serial number approach was not effective in creating a lasting impression. After some training, her introductions became more client-focused, and she began telling them that she helped companies protect their brand names, for example. Cross now is a business developer herself, recently taking a newly created position at Washington-based Patton Boggs, working from its Dallas office. Nurturing the “business side of lawyers” is part of the reason why Boston’s Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo hired Chief Marketing Officer Bruce Alltop, a former sales and marketing professional at Ernst & Young. His primary job is to assist the firm in identifying areas where it can cross-sell services, said Robert Popeo, chairman of Mintz Levin. He described Alltop’s role as a “vehicle of access” to help the firm’s 383 attorneys determine the array of services clients or potential clients may need. For the most part, attorneys are not trained for the business side of lawyering, Popeo said, and many would rather not be bothered. “They’ve been taught that all they need to be is the best professional and all will flow from that,” he said. “It doesn’t work like that.” Instead, Popeo said, attorneys should be able to communicate with clients in a way that lets them know “the road map to success.” And for those attorneys who are unwilling to accept that being a lawyer means knowing how to function as a businessperson, Popeo has a solution. “We think there are some terrific academic institutions for them,” he said. Jones’ e-mail address is [email protected].

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