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Don’t blow your trumpet, suggest a specification.

2003 October 13
by Malcolm Sleath

Frank is a lawyer. (Well, not really, he is a character in the book I am writing to illustrate how professionals can influence their clients in an honest and decent way.) Witty, urbane, and generally someone good to have around, he is really good at his job; people seek him out because of the reputation he has with his existing clients.

But where the referral is not so strong, people meeting him for the first time somehow feel that he does not take their concerns seriously. They can’t quite make the connection between the pleasant and entertaining man they see, and the acute, experienced, and aggressive professional that they have been led to expect. The younger people in the practice respect Frank’s knowledge and experience, but sometimes think he is a bit of a dinosaur, a blast from the past.

Frank sees it from a quite different point of view. When his firm organises receptions, he is delighted to play the entertaining host. After all, it is just good manners isn’t it? People haven’t come to hear him spout off like some foot-in-the-door salesman. While he takes the issues facing his clients and potential clients very seriously, he just hates the way ‘marketing speak’ has contaminated his profession. He doesn’t really want to engage with all the stuff about ‘elevator pitches’, the PowerPoint presentations and look-alike brochures.

The way that Frank sees it, lawyers who are not as experienced and able as he is, are prepared to compromise their professional standards and behave like salespeople. They manage to impress potential clients who don’t know enough to make an informed choice. They often get the instructions, while he does not. So he is aware there is a problem, but how does he resolve it?

His enlightenment comes when he realises that professional credibility does not come from making claims about your firm’s superiority. It comes from demonstrating to the client that you understand the issue facing them — as they currently see it. But how do you indicate how your firm is better, without appearing to boast?

The answer lies in the specification. In the book Frank discovers that the best way to convince a potential client that you have the capability that they need is so spell out what you think that capability is. It’s a single sentence that begins,

From what you say it sounds like you might need a firm that …

The client assumes that your firm has the capability, or they will ask you if you have. Either way, they get the message that you understand the problem, are interested in working for them, and have the capability and experience to do so.