The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity
has its own reason for existing … Never lose a holy
We are all familiar with the image of the fast talking and overly
gregarious used car salesman. It is a stereotype that lawyers
generally want to avoid emulating at all costs. Most of us became
attorneys because, on some level, we wanted to steer clear of
Selling, however, is a very important skill if you want to succeed
in private practice. Competition for legal work has never been
The good news is that selling legal services is not like selling
used cars. Clients hire lawyers they trust. Since building that
trust generally happens over time, smooth talking and high pressure
tactics are unlikely to be effective in convincing an individual to
retain you as their lawyer.
Instead, you must invest time and effort in building your
relationships with target clients or with referral sources.
MARKET LIKE YOU COUNSEL
Put another way, success in legal sales requires good lawyering
skills. If you are good at asking probing questions and listening
carefully to the answers, then you can be very successful in
building your practice.
An experienced lawyer understands the value of asking probing
questions and attentive listening. It is only through this
give-and-take that an attorney can properly assess a client's
situation. Likewise, using these good counseling skills can help
you reveal legal needs that a prospect may have, or other ways that
you can further your relationship.
THE MECHANICS OF GOOD LISTENING
Being a good listener is not a passive role. Rather, a good
listener is someone who uses active listening skills. It is
insufficient to keep quiet and let the other person do all the
talking. It is only through some sort of feedback that the other
party knows you are taking it all in and not simply daydreaming
about your upcoming vacation.
There are a number of verbal and nonverbal clues that tell someone
you are actively listening to him or her. Try to get the other
individual to speak 80 percent of the time. If you are meeting
face-to-face, body language can send the right signals. Good eye
contact and nodding one's head periodically can demonstrate a real
interest in the other person (in contrast, looking at your
smartphone conveys the opposite). Paraphrasing what the individual
has said and asking clarifying questions also demonstrates active
THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
While listening is a key skill in relationship building, learning
how to ask probing questions is equally important. If you come to a
meeting armed with the "right" questions, you will find it much
easier to get the other person you are meeting to open up.
So what are some of the types of questions that you should be
asking when you meet with clients, prospective clients and
potential referral sources? What are the categories of questions
that will give you clues about the ways that you can be helpful
(and build trust, and ultimately build the relationship)?
DO SOME ADVANCED RESEARCH
One of the tenets of being a good listener is to ask a lot of
open-ended questions. On the one hand, this is all you really need
to know about asking questions. You can simply ask: "What's keeping
you up at night?" "What are you working on these days?" or "What do
you do for fun when you are not working?" Each of these questions
is bound to elicit some clues about the business problems that the
individual is facing and about their personal interests.
While "What's keeping you up at night?" may generate some leads
for you (by uncovering legal issues that need attention), as a
marketing tool, asking this question may come across as cliché.
Even worse, this particular question hints of intellectual
laziness. It may convey a sense that you have no idea what this
individual is up against and you have not bothered to do any
homework to find out.
Sometimes, there is not much that you can find out in advance of
meeting a prospect. But you won't know until you do some research.
If you were introduced to the individual by a mutual contact, find
out what your contact knows about the person and their
Read the press releases on their company's website (if there are
any). Find and read their profile on LinkedIn. Do a Google search
to see if their company has been mentioned by other mainstream or
alternative media sources. Review court dockets to see whether they
or their company has been involved in litigation in recent years.
Find out something that is happening in their industry or
profession and get their reaction. If you have done work in the
past for the individual, review your notes so that you can inquire
about the outcome of the project.
Overall, make sure you learn enough so that you can come up with
some questions that sound like you are informed about the prospect
(at least about things you could have easily learned through their
website or through a Google search).
Personal interests and affiliations should also be explored. If
you discover that you have any common interests, that you have
attended any of the same schools, that you live in the same town or
that you belong to any of the same political, religious, cultural
or athletic organizations, those can become the basis of very
The specific questions you ask will depend on who you are trying
to cultivate and what you find out. If you tap your own sense of
curiosity, marketing in this way can actually be fun. Don't wing
it, though. Be prepared and, over time, you will see the fruits of
your relationships building. In the meantime, here are some
examples and further guidelines to help you get ready for your next
- In a conversation with a real estate developer: "We are hearing
that multifamily residential development is one active area in
construction. What are you hearing? Are you planning to get
involved in any of these projects?"
- In a conversation with a therapist: "I heard an interesting
story about the growing use of music therapy to treat speech loss.
Are you seeing art and music therapy being used more with children
whose parents are going through a divorce?"
- In a conversation with a client you represented in an
employment discrimination case: "What has been going on at work
since we settled your case? Are you getting the responsibility and
assignments that you wanted in your new job? Have you been able to
keep up with any of your former colleagues?"
- In a conversation with a contact who was written about in the
Boston Business Journal: "I saw that nice article about you in the
BBJ. I didn't realize that you grew up Ann Arbor, Michigan. That's
where I grew up. Which high school did you attend?"
- In a conversation with a small business person: "I saw on your
website that you have plans to expand to more locations in 2012.
Have you secured financing yet for the expansion?"
GENERAL AREAS FOR FOLLOW-UP
If you made a referral, ask the contact about their experience
with that professional. Ask the contact to tell you what questions
you should ask your other contacts (i.e., that might elicit a need
for their services.) Ask the individual if they would like you to
send them an article on a subject you discussed when you met; or if
they would be interested in hosting a free client seminar on the
subject. Find out if they are interested in presenting a seminar or
in co-authoring an article that is targeted to your mutual
Stephen E. Seckler, president of Seckler Legal Consulting
and Coaching (www.seckler.com), is vice chair of the MBA's Law
Practice Management Section Council. Previously, he was managing
director of BCG Attorney Search's Boston office. He writes
www.counseltocounsel.com, one of the American Bar Association
Journal's Blawg100 in 2007 and 2008. He can be contacted at