At NITA’s two-week trial advocacy boot camp in Louisville, Colorado, I gained enormous respect for trial lawyers. I thought my skills in client development would translate easily. I was wrong.
The best analogy I can come up with for the difference is like being an expert at checkers and then making the move to chess. It’s exponentially more complicated, but tons more fun.
In fact, I think the parallels between legal marketing and trial advocacy go both ways:
Jury Selection. Your case starts with voir dire. Whatever the local procedures, the key here is to not start by “selling” your case, but rather by learning about the members of the jury. As with client development, the key is to ask appropriate open-ended questions and then listen purposefully. Too many lawyers think they can win over new clients by explaining all that they and their law firm’s can do. The simple lesson of voir dire is that the best way to start winning over a new client is by learning about them.
Opening Statement. While no one uses the phrase “elevator pitch” to describe what a lawyer does in trial, in a sense that’s exactly what the beginning of an effective opening statement is all about. How do you capture in just a few words both the theory of your case and the moral theme? Importantly, it’s not about fancy words. Quite the opposite! Using your facts effectively is what turns out to be most persuasive. Selling legal services, similarly, is about understanding the needs of a potential client and then setting out, factually and with simple words, how you can help.
Direct Examination. In trial, you have to tell your story not directly, but through asking non-leading questions of your witnesses. Similarly, in developing new business, it’s best to use the Socratic method with a potential client. Don’t tell them that they need you. Instead, ask questions in an artful way so that they come to that conclusion on their own.
Cross-Examination.; While sometimes it’s necessary to be aggressive, it’s not at all necessary to be cross to have an effective cross-examination. Dealing with competition – whether it’s another firm or the possibility of a client handling a matter in-house – might require some discussion. But a confident, fact-based conversation will always win out over a heated debate.
Final Argument. If you’ve done everything right up to this point, you win. This is true whether it’s a case or new business you’re going after. The final argument pulls it all together, but is based on what has come before. You must be believable and logical, but more than that, there must be a reason for you to win. And with both trial advocacy and client development, the only way you’ll accomplish your goal is by being thoroughly prepared.