A prospective client has identified three lawyers whom she believes possess the expertise and standing to solve her problem. The good news is that you’re one of them, and 10 minutes from now she’ll be sitting in your office to interview you. The less-good news? You don’t know much about her beyond whatever dry information a Google search and her LinkedIn profile revealed.
Raising the Odds in Your Favor
During that first meeting with a prospective client, how will you manage the conversation to raise the odds of being chosen? Begin with the only evidence that you have. Out of all the lawyers who work in your practice area, she chose to interview you. Why?
Ask her. This gets her selling you to herself.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you. Thanks so much for coming in. May I ask why you thought I might be worth talking with?”
She’ll share her reasons for believing that you’re qualified, or a good fit for her, or any number of things that matter to her, but that you would never know to ask her. Thank her for her candor and move on to understanding the prospective client’s problem.
“Thank you for that. Okay, let’s get to it. Please explain your problem, and what result you’re looking for.”
She’ll explain the problem, and you’ll probe to make sure you understand it thoroughly. Now, it’s time for the crucial part most salespeople (not just lawyers) don’t even know they should do, much less how to: Define the strategic and operational impact of the problem and get it translated into dollar terms.
“I understand. So, how is all this affecting your business? What are the practical implications of this problem?”
Listen carefully as she explains the tangible impacts of the problem. Don’t accept vague or abstract responses. You should be able to visualize what she’s saying. For example, “It’s making a mess of our production schedule” isn’t good enough. Can you visualize that? I can’t. Prompt for specifics.
“I understand, but give me some examples of what you mean by ‘a mess.’”
You Aren’t Competing Against Other Lawyers
The prospective client might say, “Critical materials are arriving too early, and they’re in the way of other processes that have to be completed before we can use those materials.” This, you can visualize. It’s real and concrete.
Remember, “vague” doesn’t motivate. The whole purpose of this part of the interview is for her to reach or reinforce the conclusion that “We must take action; it’s imperative, not optional.” Or, due to your astute help, she might realize it’s not imperative, in which case it’s time for you to be (privately) skeptical that there’s a real opportunity here, and continue to vet it rigorously. This is vital. Otherwise, you’re at risk of “no decision.”
Never assume that you’re competing against other lawyers. That competition only exists if she actually invests time, attention, and money to solve the problem. And that will only happen if the specific consequences of not taking action are unacceptable.
How many times have you absolutely dazzled a prospect, only to have them go dark on you, and later learn that they never did anything? There are many things we could do, maybe even should do, but don’t. We only do what we must do, and that’s defined as the cost of doing nothing being intolerable.
Okay, you’ve succeeded in eliciting from her that this problem has current consequences A, B, C and D. Wow. Those are pretty serious, right? Anyone would want to eliminate those. Remember, though, that “want to” is insufficient. You need must. She’s defined the current situation. It’s time to create a gap between that and the desired situation. Traversing that gap represents your value.
“If you solved the problem and made A, B, C, and D (you have to say the actual negative consequences represented by my letters) go away, what would things look like then?”
She’ll share correlating positive impacts 1, 2, 3, and 4 that constitute the desired situation. Now, to set up the potential return on investment and establish a dramatic comparison against your fee, you need to help her express the collective financial impact in dollars.
“I understand. So, if you produced 1, 2, 3, and 4 (as before, say the actual positive impacts represented by my numbers), what economic impact would you anticipate?”
Few people are in the habit of associating economic impact with practical outcomes, so most likely she’ll demur: “Oh, that’s hard to say.” What she means is, “I hadn’t thought of it in those terms.” She’s not prepared with an answer, so she’ll try to avoid it. Make answering easier by lowering the response bar.
“I’m not asking for precision. What does your gut say?”
You’ll get a qualitative reply. “Oh, it’s huge!” (BTW, lawyers always say “significant.”)
Now, all you have to do is get her to define “huge” in dollar terms. You do that by establishing a response framework with two extreme poles so you don’t influence the content of her answer.
“Are we talking five dollars or 5 billion dollars?” (Choose your poles in relation to the size of the business. If you’re speaking with a big NYC financial player, $5 billion probably isn’t an outlier.)
Most people will peg the needle somewhere on the broad spectrum between those intentionally extreme poles: “Oh, I don’t know. Call it $3 million.” Some will resist attaching a number. Gently restate the question, reassuring her you’re not expecting mathematical precision, merely a representative figure to establish the scale of the problem. If you’re asked why that’s so important, answer simply and truthfully.
“It gives us context for which solutions and approaches make sense and which don’t. There’s no sense wasting time talking about a solution whose cost is disproportionate to the amount at risk.”
At this point, she wants to hear how you’ll solve her problem, and you’re much better informed than most lawyers would be. You also know that your fee is dwarfed by the value that she’s declared. If you’re going to charge $100,000 to solve a $3 million problem, you’re in a pretty good position, and you’re much more confident about having “$100,000” come out of your mouth. More importantly, you’ve anchored your price in a way that few competitors will know how to.
The discipline you’ve applied will make all but the best-trained competitors look sloppy and amateurish by comparison.
All that remains now is for you to do the part you’re best at, which is to explain solution options to the prospective client, and the ramifications and cost of each, and ask her which one seems to make the most sense. She may ask your professional advice on which option to choose. You answer this way:
“Given what you’ve just explained to me, and what I’ve learned about you in the time we’ve spent together, it seems like Option No. 2 makes the most sense because (give the reasons). What do you think?”
Her answer should be, “I agree.”
Can She Hire You?
Now it’s time to test whether or not she can hire you — not if she will, but if she can, that is, if it’s an action she can get comfortable with.
First, test the practical aspects of hiring you.
“We’ve talked a fair amount about how I’d approach this. Does that make sense to you?”
You’ll be confident that the answer is “yes.” If it wasn’t, you’d have gotten pushback while you were discussing it.
Now it’s time to address the real issue.
“As we go down this path together, there may be a time when circumstances require you to make an important decision, with imperfect information, and not enough time. Under such conditions, can you envision yourself turning to me for advice, and acting confidently on that advice?”
This is the definition of “comfortable with.” And that’s what it’s all about.