‘Closing The Deal’ – The Lawyer’s Version





Always be closing,

always be closing.

- Alec Baldwin as Blake in the movie Glengarry Glen Ross (see a clip of this great scene here)

Focus on Closing

My first couple of months as a solo, I spent a lot of time talking to prospective clients. At that time I was offering free consultations. During these consultations I would give away the milk, which meant that very few potential clients were buying the cow. Even worse, I didn’t clearly express to my prospective clients what the cow was and why it was worth my fees to get it. I had no idea what the hell I was doing and was quite perturbed that many of these prospects weren’t becoming paying clients.

Unfortunately, how to sell is among the myriad of things that we lawyers need to know yet didn’t learn in law school. When I was just starting out, I didn’t understand how important the mantra, “always be closing” really was. After months of being disappointed at how few clients I had, I realized that closing clients needed to be my numero uno priority.

Now I have a method that keeps closing at the top of my mind at all times. You should try it:

Get a whiteboard and write down how much revenue you want to make this quarter. (Go ahead. I’ll wait).  Under your goal number, write down how much you’ve made so far this quarter and subtract it from your goal number. The new total is how much you have left to make. Be sure to include the date every time you update the board – it adds a sense of urgency. Now every time you get paid, deduct the amount of revenue to date from your goal number. Here’s an example:

Goal for Q1:                             $20,000

Revenue to Date (2/2/12):  $   6,500

Need to Make:                       $ 13,500

By doing this you will have the exact number you need to make staring you in the face everyday. Its amazing how that number can keep you focused on acquiring clients so you can meet the bottom line. Remember, that

what gets measured, gets managed. – Peter Drucker

Selling Isn’t Icky

In addition to not knowing how to sell, we lawyers often feel uncomfortable selling. I’ve heard lots of lawyers and other service professionals say that selling makes them feel icky. They say, “I don’t want to force anyone to buy from me.” This position requires a re-frame. Thinking that you are forcing someone to buy from you is giving yourself too much credit. No one can force me to part with my money if I don’t I want to (except the IRS and an armed robber); likewise for your potential clients.

Instead, realize that you offer a valuable service and people need to know that your service is available and understand how it can help them. I can’t tell you how many emails and phone calls I have received from giddy prospects who are thrilled to discover my practice. If I wasn’t spending time sharing information about what I do, people I can help would never know I exist and therefore, never be able to benefit from my services. My point here is that people WANT to buy from you.

When you have a new prospect in front of you, do these three things with an eye towards either closing the sale or discovering that you and this prospect don’t belong together. (Either one is good. You don’t want to work for someone who isn’t a good fit for your practice anyway – it will only lead to headaches.)

1. Listen. Spend lots of time listening very carefully and asking open-ended questions. The more you listen to your potential client, the closer you’ll get to understanding what they truly want. When you know what they really want, you can express the reasons why your services are valuable to them. Additionally, knowing a lot about your potential client will help you to frame the conversation when it comes to discussing fees.

2. Educate. By being a good listener, you will make the potential client feel comfortable that you understand what they need. Then you can spend time educating the client about the particular legal issue their facing and how you can resolve it. Sharing a small portion of your knowledge will help the prospective client trust and believe in your expertise. It will help them understand their options and the true value that you can bring.

3. Close. Once you have spent some time listening to your clients wants and educating your client about the legal issue and the value that you bring, its time to close. Closing is pretty simple, just ask them if they would like to hire you. If they say no, you can move on. If they say yes, you can take the next steps to making them a client (collecting an intake form, sending an engagement agreement, accepting payment, etc.). If they say maybe, let them know you’ll follow up in a specific amount of time (2 days, one week, etc.). Then when you follow up, if they still don’t have a definitive answer give them a deadline by which to decide. When the deadline arrives, if they haven’t said yes, remove them from your sales process. Perpetual maybes can be an enormous time suck. Cut them off and move on.

Ideally, you should want exactly what your prospects want: the satisfaction of their desire or the resolution to their problem. – Josh Kaufman, The Personal MBA

Selling is only icky if you’re selling something you don’t believe in to someone who doesn’t need it. Your true goal is to deliver your services to clients who need them. So don’t make it hard for your potential clients to buy from you. Focus on closing for your benefit and theirs.

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

This entry was posted in Client Relations, Guest Bloggers, Solo & Small Firm Practice and tagged Rachel Rodgers. Bookmark the permalink.

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10 comments on “‘Closing The Deal’ – The Lawyer’s Version

  • Rachel,

    Working with accountants is in many ways just like working with attorneys. They both share the same mindset about selling and especially how it makes them feel, “icky”. The reality is that not enough time is spent working with professionals to help shape the mindset regarding developing business. But that’s a topic for another day.

    My goal when working with staff and young partners in the firm is to first help them understand what selling is, and what selling is not. I help them see the differences between telemarketers, car salespeople, retail sales folks and professional rainmakers, which is what I want them to become.

    The second thing I do is help them understand our firm’s sales process. This helps to keep them focused on the main goal in conversations with potential clients. That goal is to determine whether or not the prospect has real pains/issues and if so, whether or not we can help them. We definitely want to keep them from sharing too much “milk” and ruin an opportunity to gain a new client or increase wallet share with an existing one. Our process allows our staff and partners to know when to stop sharing information and move the prospect through the remainder of the process toward becoming a paying client.

    Bottom line, having the correct mindset about developing business is the first step. The second step is to develop or borrow a sales process that allows professionals to save time, identify real prospects for the firm and close more business with confidence and remove any feelings of dread around developing business.

    I would be happy to share with you or anyone else a few books from different authors that I think would be beneficial to help professionals.

    Disclaimer: I am not the author of any of the books I recommend. I just don’t want to list a bunch of resources without knowing a little more about the situation.


    • Mike,

      Thanks for your comments! I so agree! Its all about mindset! If you feel like your services aren’t valuable or lack confidence, that can be a barrier to effectively closing leads. Its hard to educate someone on the value you bring when you are unsure about that value. Getting clear on your worth and what you can bring to the table is step 1 to being able to sell.

      I am fascinated by the topic of selling and the psychology behind it so I would welcome your reading list. :)


  • Did you see how she equated the IRS with and armed robber? Nicely played.

    All jokes aside, this is great advice for attorneys – or any other professional service provider. Because I’m a younger attorney, I often share too much information with the client before moving into the “selling” phase. I do this to prove that I really do know what I’m talking about.

    Never forget that in a knowledge-based industry like the law, your knowledge has value in and of itself. Why should your non-paying leads get identical treatment to your paying clients? Convert leads into clients and then share your knowledge. That way, clients feel like they get more from you than non-clients do.

    • Ethan,

      I understand what you mean about sharing too much information but I find that most clients do not doubt the capabilities and competencies of young lawyers. Sadly, its usual other lawyers that doubt us. That being said. I don’t think you have to prove that you know what you’re doing. You graduated law school, passed the bar and set up your own practice. That plus a few testimonials should be enough to show you are capable. I think the initial consult is just about answering 2 questions for the client: 1. do they like you? and 2. can they afford you?

      Thanks for commenting!

  • Hello Rachel:

    Your article is educating (without being patronizing at all, a minor miracle these days!!) and a good summary of basic issues that even experienced attorneys need to be reminded of.

    I just want to bring to your attention that there is, among many others, a common situation that impedes making a “true” closing and therefore belongs among the “perpetual maybes”.

    Very often I came across potential clients who made a bona fide consultation to my office, have a legitimate cause and not only posses the resources to hire my services, sometimes they will even advance a retainer or cover the initial expenses and partial fees of the case, yet are simply incapable of making the final real commitment to the case.

    Not unlike the perennial suitor of a desirable young lady who will never “pop the question”. His intentions might be legitimate and his interest is true but he has not in him to commit.

    The reasons for this behavior are a myriad. They shall not matter to you. Just learn to identify the pattern these “clients” follow and to avoid them, least you dare be dragged in their circulus inextricabilis.

    I have encountered too many very promising prospects of new business ventures or litigation worthy cases (with an enticing chance at a huge monetary award) that were left at the launch pad, their countdown clock looping eternally.

    These prospects can AND WILL take away so much of your time because everytime they contact you, your mind goes back to your initial appraisal of the potential of their case/business: like a siren song you are lured by the spell casted by yourself. Wake up from the dream and move on.

    Following the thinking of Ethan, your knowledge and your time are not to be squandered on non-paying clients.

    Your time IS one of your most valuable assets and a limited irreplaceable resource. Make your clients respect it accordingly.

    Again, many thanks for sharing this Rachel.

    Miguel Araúz-Adames

  • Miguel,

    Thanks so much for sharing! I appreciate your comments about the clients who are willing to pay but aren’t ready to the “pull the trigger” on their case. I can understand how they can be a time suck as well.

  • Although I only see the word ‘leads’ in the comments, for those who seem to be getting in an uproar over the word and devaluing the sentiments of this post based upon what they think it implies, I thought I’d provide this link and relevant definition:


    A lead is nothing more than a potential client and every lawyer, BigLaw or solo, seeks them out every day. The fact that someone puts what lawyers do everyday when meeting potential clients into stark language is nothing but refreshing.

    To those who think lawyers don’t make calculated assessments when meeting with potential clients as to the case’s financial viability…that’s just plain ridiculous. To claim it is demeaning to the profession to make such calculations along with assessing one’s professional responsibilities to a potential client (like conflict-checking) is equally silly and bad for one’s practice.

    None of these ‘calculations’ undermines professionalism or compromises ethical obligations. It’s the business side of running a practice. If the word ‘lead’ offends you, call them what you will. But a rose by any other name….

  • Rachel,
    Thanks for this helpful post. I love how you break it down into 3 simple steps. I think it is critical that lawyers believe in their product. When you come across a person who is truly passionate about what they do, who believes that they offer valuable services, and who genuinely wants to help their client/customer, you find someone that is not selling, they are solving a problem. And that is what people want- a solution to a problem.

    I have changed the focus of my practice because I was finding it hard to “sell” my litigation skills because I was so frustrated with the system. I didn’t have passion for what I was offering, and I’m sure that this did not come across well to prospective clients.

    Now I am pursuing an area that I am much more passionate about and finding that I am not selling, I am educating people and clarifying their need and then offering a solution. It is much more fun.

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