Two Types of Motivation

Firms in professional service industries have traditionally focused on what could be described as the avoidance, or mitigation, of pain. Just as a doctor would ask a patient to describe their presenting symptoms, seek to provide a diagnosis of the underlying cause, and prescribe a treatment to alleviate the cause of the suffering, so professionals (including, of course, lawyers) often present themselves as the skilled and experienced diagnostician – dealing not only with symptoms, but with the underlying causes of some malady affecting their client’s personal of professional affairs.

This is understandable, not least in the case of law firms. A client will arrive with a specific issue they wish to resolve – divorce perhaps, or a contract on which they need detailed legal advice. It is also, of course, appropriate at certain times and with certain clients. However, there is a deeper question here: once the immediate cause of pain has been dealt with, what would motivate the client to return and conduct further business with the firm?

Two of the key issues that consistently concern lawyers are the constant need to find more clients and more work, and the requirement to justify their prices.

Change the Process - Change the Focus

By changing the sales process to focus on helping clients keep ahead of the challenges facing them or their business, and by acting as a partner with the client in a longer-term professional relationship, lawyers can help themselves to address these issues and can help their clients move beyond the immediate legal issues they are facing.

This changes the focus somewhat and, although it is not to say that clients with immediate problems should be ignored (quite the opposite, as an initial problem could be the beginning of a sustained relationship), requires slightly different skills from the firm’s people. Professionals pride themselves on solving problems – but often pay little attention to what happens afterwards. They then complain about having to expend effort on business development.

From Affliction to Aspiration

In addition to dealing with the client’s current affliction, the attention should be shifted (perhaps gradually) towards goals and aspirations. How would their business look in, say, three years’ time if all went to plan? And what steps would they need to take in order to get there? It is highly likely that the answer will involve legal advice on various points over time, and the firm should be positioning itself as the go-to provider of that advice.

What might be described as ‘negative’ motivation only lasts as long as the immediate problem is still current – once the problem has been solved, the role of the lawyer is quickly forgotten. A focus on aspirations is more likely to encourage the client to remember the advice and to return in the future, and to recommend the lawyer’s services. Clients are also more likely to recognise the value of the service they have received, and to pay a value-based fee as a consequence.

This also presents opportunities for cross-selling and up-selling, which means that all of the people in the firm will need to be trained on how to do this in an effective but ethical way, and to be on the look-out for opportunities for other teams in the firm. There may also be the chance to recommend the services of complementary professionals – accountants or insurers, for example – which will provide further kudos and demonstrate the true value that the firm brings (assuming that these professionals operate to similarly high standards). Therefore, the goal of networking should not be simply to meet new prospective clients, but to develop a genuinely effective network in the individual’s field of expertise.

This will all, of course, require that the firm support its people in developing a culture of business development that focuses on longer-term value to the client – but the rewards should be self-evident.