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March 30, 2007

Asking clients for work: "Why are lawyers so shy?"

Over the years this keeps happening:

I take a General Counsel or non-lawyer executive or CFO of a targeted client to lunch or dinner to ask for work. At some point I briefly say what my firm does and how we can help the client on particular legal issues it has. I ask a few questions. I do a short (very informal) pitch which ends with: "We like [the company] and we'd love to work with you. How can I win/earn your business?"

The client rep laughs and says something like, "That's refreshing--because I can't tell you how many times I have dined, gone to sporting events or played golf with lawyers and they never ask me for my business. Sometimes this goes on for years. I know that's why they are there--but they won't ever get to the point."

"So what's up with that?" he or she continues, often openly amused. "Are most lawyers shy or something? Why would I want to hire a law firm not aggressive enough, direct enough or business-oriented enough to just ask for the work?"

True story: One in-house counsel from a Fortune 100 told me that a partner in a major law firm he saw regularly for years couldn't bring himself to inquire. They lawyer was the in-house guy's next door neighbor.

Is the careful, rational, polite, risk-averse "lawyer personality" to blame? I have no idea.....but I do know that business clients--whether or not they buy the image of the fire-breathing lawyer-AlphaHuman they see on television--expect lawyers to have the business instincts and the stones to ask for the work. So ask. Practice first if you must. Get a pitch and a strategy for each meeting. Don't wait until 30 minutes goes by or the table is cleared. Ask.

Posted by JD Hull at March 30, 2007 07:58 AM

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