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In the most famous scene in the movie based on David Mamet’s play “Glengarry Glen Ross,” an executive named Blake, played by Alec Baldwin, tries to motivate a crew of sullen real estate salesmen by announcing a sales contest. The winner gets a Cadillac. Second place gets a set of steak knives. Everyone else will be fired. “Coffee is for closers,” he bellows at one salesman reaching for a mug. Though the plush offices of the nation’s leading law firms would seem to bear little resemblance to the grotty world of Mamet’s play, law firms are as eager for “closers” as any other business competing in a crowded marketplace. Toward that end, several firms have recently turned to figures similar in purpose, if not method, to the browbeating Blake. Michael Colacchio, a San Francisco-based consultant, said he and his partners at the Clarity Group have coached more than 100 partners at firms such as Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and Clifford Chance trying to find the rainmaker within. His approach, however, is more collaborative than confrontational. “I take the words ‘sales’ or ‘selling’ out of the conversation,” said Colacchio. “I want to get them to think about how they can align interests with their clients.” In Colacchio’s view, law firms are now hiring sales coaches and trainers because the economic downturn of recent years has forced them to take business development much more seriously. Colacchio has himself shifted to meet a changing market. Just three years ago, he and his marketing agency, modo futuro, were among those behind the splashy TV advertising campaign for the now-defunct Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison. Though he has since worked on a marketing campaign for Clifford Chance, Colacchio says he now devotes most of his time to coaching partners on their business-development skills. Such coaching, though, is not at all confined to the technology-driven San Francisco Bay Area. New York’s Shearman & Sterling last year hired Joseph Vales, a Rye, N.Y.-based consultant, to work with a number of partners. New York-based Willkie Farr & Gallagher also has experimented with such training. “Selling has not generally been recognized as a significant part of being a lawyer,” said Willkie Chairman Jack Nussbaum. “But at the younger partner level it’s now being recognized as part of the job.” Though neither Shearman nor Vales would comment on the latter’s work with the law firm, a source familiar with the situation echoed Nussbaum’s view. “A lot of lawyers are focused on what they do and they have no interest in salesmanship,” said the source. He said Vales was brought in to work with partners who were clearly talented but seemed to lack the confidence or social skills necessary to reach out to clients for new business. One “nebbishy” corporate finance partner was “a complete introvert,” the source said. “The firm decided to team him up with someone who was an extrovert for a living.” Vales worked with the partner for several months, encouraging him to make the calls he was reluctant to make. The partner ultimately doubled his book of business from $3 million to $6 million, the source said. Colacchio said such results are not uncommon and more than justify the fees paid to consultants. He said he charges between $9,000 and $12,000 for for roughly 20 one-on-one sessions with a partner, spread over six months. But some feel such sales trainers are more hype than anything else. “People are just so desperate to build market share,” said one skeptical managing partner whose firm has worked with a number of trainers. “They’ll latch onto anything that sounds like it will help.” The managing partner said there was nothing wrong with trainers in theory, but added that the fees many charge law firms, based on projections of how much partners can increase their revenues, vastly outweighed any benefit they provided. “Once you start with these guys, and you have a firm of any size, you quickly get into seven figures,” the managing partner said. “It’s not clear to me they’re delivering that kind of value.” Indeed, Nussbaum said Willkie’s experience with a sales trainer was not a roaring success. A few years ago, Willkie offered its more junior partners business development training on a voluntary basis with Washington, D.C.-based consultant Michael O’Horo. A small group decided to participate. “We didn’t see an explosion in new business,” said Nussbaum, though he noted that one partner in the group continued to be extremely enthusiastic about O’Horo’s training. O’Horo disputed Nussbaum’s account of his work at Willkie, saying he had worked with a far larger cohort of lawyers at the firm. He also said that generally only a fifth of the lawyers he trained responded to his program because most were not willing to alter their habits to make it work for them. “They’re looking for someone to wave a magic wand,” he said. O’Horo said he had trained 2,500 lawyers at firms including Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal; Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw; and the former Robinson, Silverman, Pearce, Aronsohn & Berman, which merged with Bryan Cave in 2002. He said some firms had paid him large amounts to act as a lifetime consultant on whom they could call before any major client pitch. “When you go to court, you bring a pro,” he said. “In this situation, I’m the pro, the ringer they bring aboard.” FOCUS THE PITCH Those lawyers who feel they have benefited from a sales trainer’s tutelage tend to be passionate about the experience. Michael T. Stolper, a litigation partner in Orrick’s New York office, trained with Colacchio last year and credited the trainer with helping him narrow the focus of his practice and the list of clients he pitched. “I was already one of the more aggressive business development people here, but my efforts were broad-based,” he said. “Once you focus your efforts, the results are amazing.” The consultant helped the lawyer by going through his list of contacts to identify the relatively small number who were both likely to have business at any given time and who would be well-disposed to hire him. In the process, Stolper also decided that he would begin directing his efforts more toward clients in the media and entertainment industries. Colacchio said he had different suggestions for how partners should aim for new business. Some lawyers turned out to be good at cold calling, he said, while others did better by slowly building a profile through published articles and conference presentations. But not all lawyers respond to sales training. Colacchio said he had not experienced much resistance from partners whose firms asked them to participate, though he said a handful seemed resentful and two dropped out early on. “I think it was just too threatening to them,” he said. Lawyers on the East Coast, he said, might be expected to be more disdainful of the idea of improving their “sales” pitch. O’Horo agreed, describing a number of partners who reacted touchily, even angrily, to his advice. In some cases, he said, these were unproductive partners to whom firms were extending a final opportunity. Colacchio said he had similar suspicions about some of the lawyers he had seen, and he generally asked firms not to send him partners who had “already been marked” as underperformers. On the other hand, both men said lawyers considered productive could be among the most difficult. Accustomed to thinking well of themselves, they are often disinclined to listen to a nonlawyer trying to tell them how they can do even better. “Someone making $800,000 a year is not feeling a lot of pressure,” said O’Horo. A similar egotism informs most lawyers’ approach to business development, he said, and was the reason most were unable to substantially improve their book of business. Lawyers pitching clients, said O’Horo, talk only of themselves, their firm, their past successes and their grasp of esoteric legal concepts. O’Horo said the goal of his work with lawyers was to get them to base their approach on understanding not just narrow legal concerns but the factors critical to their client’s operational success. Instead of simply expecting they will talk to other lawyers or finance specialists, he said, law firm partners should also reach out to field managers and operations executives. “Lawyers have an inordinately narrow view of who a buyer is,” said O’Horo. But the skeptical managing partner said ideas like O’Horo’s, while good, were common sense. Firms would do best, he said, by incorporating such ideas themselves into training programs for associates, rather than paying enormous amounts to have someone coach partners in their 40s and 50s. Nussbaum agreed, noting that while Willkie did not rule out hiring a sales trainer again in the future, the long-term goal was to have a reservoir of business development knowledge on which lawyers could draw as they rose through the ranks. Nussbaum said major firms’ difficulties with selling were not surprising given the traditional career path in the law. Top students recruited into top firms perform research and draft documents. But he said most partners seemed to be adjusting to a new reality in which client relationships were frequently unstable and rarely exclusive. “There’s no such thing today as a purely working partner,” said Nussbaum. “We’ve recognized this is a skill we expect lawyers to have.”

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