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Client Development

The Power of Doubt

Back when I was practicing law, I used to say that my greatest skill was doing lunch. I did an awful lot of lunch with some pretty good business development results. I have previously written about how I used my lunch meetings to develop personal relationships. You can read about that here: Eating Your Way to A Great Client Base

During my lunch meetings with potential clients, I often used the power of doubt to sell my legal services.

Here is how I did it:

  1. I would ask the potential client to describe their corporate set up and I would draw it out on paper. Often, the client had not optimized their structure for creditor protection, use of the capital gains exemption, multiplying the capital gains exemption or preparation of the business for eventual sale. If that was the case, I would draw some pictures and show them how we could reorganize their structure to achieve these goals.
  2. I would also ask them whether their existing counsel had made them aware of these issues. If they said no, I would express surprise that they were not getting the proactive advice that I gave to my clients. I might say that maybe their existing lawyer was not familiar with these issues. No hard sell. Just planting some seeds of doubt.
  3. I would frequently venture outside of my area of expertise and ask the potential client if they had their wills done recently. Since I was usually lunching with business owners, I would inquire as to whether it had been recommended that they have a secondary will done to reduce probate fees. If the answer was negative, I would suggest that sophisticated wills lawyers (like the ones in my firm) would always make that recommendation to a business owner. I might mention that some less sophisticated counsel might not know about this issue. Once again, no aggressive selling. Just spreading some doubt around.
  4. Sometimes I would inquire about whether the potential client had hired an independent contractor to write any software for their business. I would make them aware that they had to be careful to obtain a written agreement that the client was to be the owner of the copyright in the software and obtain a waiver of moral rights. I might ask whether their existing advisor had told them about this issue and express surprise if they had not.
  5. If my lunch companion was dealing with a larger firm, I would ask whether the senior partners were making time for his work or whether they were delegating it to more junior people. I often mentioned that junior people tend to be more narrowly trained compared to senior lawyers and sometimes miss issues, while at our firm he would deal with senior lawyers like me.
  6. If the potential client was dealing with a sole practitioner, I might remark on how difficult it is for sole practitioners to stay current in several areas of law. In our firm, we had a greater degree of specialization. It was not my fault if the potential client left the lunch meeting with the impression that she had outgrown her existing law firm.

You get the idea.  I asked questions. I planted some doubt seeds. I implied that our firm would do better.  We were a bit like Goldilocks. The client was too small for a big firm and too big for a small firm. Our medium sized firm would fit just right.  

Now, in case you think that I was confused about where the ethical line was, that is not at all the case. If by chance the existing counsel was obviously doing a great job, I would tell the potential client that they were lucky to have found that lawyer and should stick with them, but to keep our firm in mind if for any reason their counsel was not available to help them. Now, I admit that this did not happen often, which is understandable. If the client was having lunch with me there was likely something that they did not like about their lawyer. Also, I was usually of the view that I was much more brilliant than their existing lawyer. I was doing them a great service by offering them the opportunity to work with me. (Really, I mean that. If you don’t believe that you are a great lawyer, you cannot possibly convince anyone else that they should hire you.)

No one likes a hard sell. No one likes to be told that they are dumb for dealing with their existing counsel. But a little bit of doubt subtly delivered in a helpful and respectful manner can go a long way.

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