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Build Your Legal Practice With Client-Centric Selling

By Jay Harrington

I know “sell” is a four-letter word for most lawyers. But let’s be honest — that’s what’s required to build a law practice. We tend to call it “business development,” and that’s fine if you prefer that semantic difference. But I like to think of business development as the result of the actions we take to attract new clients — to sell our services.

client-centric selling

Selling is a loaded word because it connotes a transactional experience where a buyer is pushed to buy, such as at a used car dealership, often leading to buyer’s remorse. However, selling doesn’t have to feel this way — to the seller or the buyer — when it’s done in a client-centric way.

Being Helpful Versus Putting on the Hard Sell

Let’s begin with a short story demonstrating the difference between selling done in a helpful way versus a transactional way.

In my hometown, there are two bike shops located across the street from each other. I recently went shopping in search of a new mountain bike and had two drastically different experiences.

When I walked into the first shop, I was immediately greeted by a salesperson who asked me what I was looking for. “I’m thinking about getting a new mountain bike,” I said. He ushered me to the display area and started detailing all the great features of a $5,000 model — more than I spent on my first car and way more bike than I need as a relative novice to the sport.

After spending 15 minutes listening to a sales monologue, I made my way to the shop across the street. Another salesperson approached me, but the experience was far different. Instead of directing me to a product, he first asked me a bunch of questions. “How long have you been riding?” “What type of terrain do you ride, and in what seasons?” “What bike are you riding now?” “What do you like about it?” “What don’t you like?” “Do you have a budget in mind?”

As you might expect, this interaction ended with a sale — and I went home with a new bike that fit my needs and budget.

The first salesperson put on the classic “hard sell,” which turned me off. The second one took an approach that I like to call “client-centric selling” — focused on my needs and wants rather than his own.

And, of course, this approach isn’t only effective when selling consumer goods. It’s just as powerful when selling sophisticated legal services.

The Power of Client-Centric Selling

Just like with the bike shop experience, the legal industry has its fair share of professionals who dive right into their offerings without first understanding the client’s unique needs. While they may occasionally secure clients, their approach often misses the mark, leading to unmet expectations and disappointed clients.

In contrast, client-centric selling leads to more consistent wins in an industry that thrives on trust, relationships and effective solutions.

(Related: “Earning a Client’s Trust: What It Takes”)

The Benefits of Client-Centric Selling

Building trust: At the heart of client-centric selling is a genuine interest in the client. By prioritizing their needs over a swift transaction, lawyers build a rapport that fosters trust — a critical element in any attorney-client relationship.

Long-term relationships: Client-centric selling transforms transactions into relationships. When clients believe that their lawyer truly understands and cares about their problems, they are more likely to return for future legal services and recommend the attorney to others.

Greater client satisfaction: Meeting clients’ needs effectively leads to higher satisfaction rates. This not only strengthens your reputation but also boosts referrals.

How to Harness the Power of Client-Centric Selling

Client-centric selling is all about engaging in conversation, asking insightful questions and having an abundance mindset. When you believe that opportunities are abundant, you take a long-term view toward generating new business, which leads you to prioritize forming relationships built on trust. Here are a few ways to become more client-centric when selling your legal services.

The Art of Asking Open-Ended Questions and Sharing Insights

At the heart of client-centric selling is the dance between asking open-ended questions and sharing valuable insights. The beauty of open-ended questions is that they unlock doors to deeper understanding. Unlike close-ended questions that often elicit mere facts, open-ended inquiries invite clients to share their challenges, aspirations and concerns. By posing questions such as “What challenges are you currently facing?” or “What is your primary objective in this case?” you can unearth different layers of a client’s situation, enabling a meaningful dialogue.

As this dialogue unfolds, it’s essential not to remain a passive listener. Weaving in insights that reflect your expertise demonstrates genuine interest and creates a space where clients feel both heard and enlightened. Saying something along the lines of “That makes sense. I’ve dealt with clients in similar situations and here’s how we approached that problem …” can go a long way toward building confidence that you’re the right lawyer for the job. This synergy of asking and enlightening fosters an environment of trust and rapport.

Tailoring Your Solutions to Address Client Challenges

Once you’ve gathered enough information, you’re in a better position to tailor your services to fit the client’s unique needs. This means devising a legal strategy that addresses their challenges head-on. Whether it’s helping a business navigate complex regulations or assisting in a transaction, a personalized approach always wins over a one-size-fits-all tactic.

Recognizing When You’re Not the Right Fit — and Helping Nonetheless

There will inevitably be instances when, despite your best intentions, you might not be the best fit for a client — or the client will not be the right fit for you. In such cases, a client-centric approach would involve guiding them toward a more suitable solution, even if it means referring them to another attorney or firm. This approach not only demonstrates your commitment to a client’s well-being but also cements your reputation as a trusted advisor.

(Related: “Law Firm Marketing 101: Identifying Your Ideal Client”)

Don’t Stop Selling Your Services

When business is good, it’s tempting to focus solely on delivering services. However, ignoring business development is like neglecting to water a plant; eventually, growth will stall. This cycle of ups and downs can lead to unnecessary stress and financial unpredictability. One of the biggest risks of the up-and-down cycle is that it may lead to pursuing suboptimal clients and ditching a client-centric approach to selling in the process. Selling should be a continuous process integrated into your regular routine. Lawyers who get complacent during good times often find themselves struggling when the tide turns.

By prioritizing the client’s needs, asking the right questions, tailoring solutions, recognizing when to step back, and consistently prioritizing the building of your practice, you can ensure that your services will be in demand, and also deeply valued.

Always put the client at the center of the selling experience.

Also read: “Get Serious About Business Development and Start Taking Action”

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Categories: Law Firm Marketing, One of a Kind, writer lawyer, You At Work
Originally published November 6, 2023
Last updated January 8, 2024
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Jay Harrington Jay Harrington

Jay Harrington is the owner of Harrington Communications, a leading thought-leadership PR and marketing agency that specializes in helping law firms and lawyers build awareness, influence and new business. Jay is the author of three books for lawyers on issues related to business and professional development, including “The Productivity Pivot,” “The Essential Associate” and “One of a Kind: A Proven Path to a Profitable Practice.” He podcasts at The Thought Leadership Project and writes a weekly email newsletter. Previously, he practiced law at Skadden Arps and Foley & Lardner. Follow him @JayHarrington75.

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