Aderant Think Tank: Can Non-Lawyers Solve the Legal Industry’s Growth Problem?

Aderant Think Tank

Aderant Think Tank: Can Non-Lawyers Solve the Legal Industry’s Growth Problem?

A few years back, I was able to sit in on sales pitches from a couple of key law firms. Both firms came to the table with a partner leading the presentation and at least one other lawyer who would assist on the account. They proceeded with basic slideshows and brochures that included pictures of their office building.

Being brutally honest, their pitches were dreadful and neither firm nailed the opportunity. They struggled to explain the value they would bring to our organization and to show what separated them from their peers. From my perspective as a career salesperson, the bottom line was that they struggled to prove value and make an effective pitch for their firm.

The “effective pitch” challenge for law firms has existed for years. But with business development now so critically important, a greater emphasis is being placed not only on the pitch, but the entire sales process. As a result, many firms are suddenly looking outside the lawyer ranks to find professionals to help grow their business. Ten years ago there were just a handful of firms with non-practicing lawyers leading their client presentations. Today that number is growing by the month.

For many lawyers, the idea of a non-lawyer in such a key position relative to the client is still unacceptable. The legal consulting firm Sterling Strategies recently wrote that “the very term ‘non-lawyers’ is a peculiar construct of law firms. And, at many firms it is used in a way that devalues, even marginalizes, professionals who are not lawyers by training and education.”

Just last month, Crain’s Business reported that “in a profession that once banned advertising, law firms are rushing to embrace something truly radical: a sales culture nurtured by non-lawyers.” Can this new strategy for generating new business (and new revenues) from non-lawyers work? It’s still a recent phenomenon, and as DLA Piper’s chief business development officer recently stated, “What we’re doing, it’s in its infancy. We’re trying everything.”

My take is that an effective salesperson brings immense value to his or her clients. Does that salesperson have to be a lawyer in order to sell to lawyers? From my experience that answer is clearly no, and many firms have already accepted that reality. Plus, it almost goes without saying that sales and marketing isn’t usually taught in law schools and often isn’t mentored at firms. Therefore, trying to turn lawyers into salespeople can be an uphill (and unprofitable) battle.

What do you think? Do lawyers still handle all aspects of your business development? Have you tried using non-lawyers to promote the firm, and if so, how did it work out?

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