The media (movies, TV, the 24-hour news cycle) may paint lawyers as especially extroverted, showboating in the courtroom and glad-handing behind closed doors. But those of us in the industry know that many more attorneys are introverted than extroverted. Yes, there are shy lawyers! The challenge for them lies in being as brilliant at selling themselves as they are at their jobs.
I recently had the opportunity to discuss this very issue with ABA Journal podcast moderator Stephanie Francis Ward and Dalhi Myers, who practices law with Gaffney Lewis & Edwards. Here is an excerpt from our conversation:
ABA Journal: Larry, when you’re dealing with clients who are lawyers, what are the common reasons they give you about why they think they can’t do business development?
Larry Kohn: The answer is that they’re too busy to market, but we’ve learned over the years that that is really not the case. People feel busy because their lives are, of course, full, and they’re doing the things that are important to them, but the real issues are they’re uncomfortable with the fear of being an imposition on other people, their fear about appearing needy, they’re afraid of looking bad. And so when you are uncomfortable doing something, it’s easy to default to the comfort of the things that are already proven to be important to you, so time is the biggest complaint, but it’s not the real answer.
Dalhi Myers: I think Larry’s absolutely right. I’d also add that there is such a negative stigma attached to lawyers, and in some contexts, what they view as advertising, and so they sort of meld the two together: “business development” equals sort of “my shilling for services like an ambulance chaser,” when in reality, you do have to have a plan for this like anything else. And to the extent that it is the way in modern legal circles, and certainly with so much competition for business, it’s the way that we do generate the most new business and are most likely to expand existing portfolios, it’s necessary.
ABA Journal: So if you’re someone that you don’t want to look needy or you don’t want to look tawdry or whatever, how do you get past that? What do you tell people if that’s their response or if it comes up?
Kohn: The fact is that you will appear needy if you say needy things. If you say, “I really need your business,” then you’re gonna appear needy, but you would never do that. The key is to be valuable, and the phrase that I like to use is that marketing means communicating value to the right people. So the job is not to ask for the business or to appear as though you’re imposing on people, but rather, be valuable to people, and if you get good at communicating the value you bring to the right people, you’ll be good at this. There’s not a lawyer around that can’t be good at bringing in business if they understand what marketing really is.
For more tips, check out ABA Journal’s “Shy Lawyer’s Guide to Becoming a Rainmaker” podcast.