Just as a business balances its investments between product and sales, so must a lawyer balance his or her time between the practice of law and client development efforts.
I’m reminded today as I return to the practice of law just how different the legal profession is from the business world. Although lawyers might have people around to help, ultimately they are both the product and the sales team. In the business world, there is a much more distinct difference between those who create and deliver a product, and those who market and sell.
In business — at least the software business that I’ve been in — you can always have a better product. But if you invest 100% of your resources into product, and nothing into sales, you quickly run out of the fuel you need to continue to innovate and improve your product (unless you have an extraordinarily patient investor or you’re product is so good, unique or specialized that it sells itself). Similarly, the very best sales force cannot long overcome the shortcomings of a poor solution with no investment. The key is balance.
The application of this to a lawyer is obvious. To be a successful private practice lawyer – unless you’re in a unique, specialized role – you must invest in both practicing and developing business. But in one critical way the analogy doesn’t hold: in a very real sense, the act of client development for a lawyer is an integral part of the “product”. In other words, the handling of a legal matter does not begin when the lawyer starts billing time, but when the lawyer starts to listen to a potential client. And as all great sales people know – and great lawyers – listening is imperative.