Posted by: johnocunningham | September 21, 2012

You Have to See the Opportunity to Make the Sale

A spate of recent articles in various legal trade publications has noted the flattening of law firm revenue matched against a tide of rising expenses. These stories simply highlight the fact that the ability to grow revenue (that would be, to the chagrin of some lawyers: “sales”) is now critical in an age where legal practice is becoming more complex and more expensive.

It has been my good fortune to interview a large number of successful rainmakers over the years, some of whom have founded and built legendary law firms, and I have noted that they all share at least one common trait – optimism.  They can be tough, or even brutal in negotiations or in the courtroom, but their natural default setting is one in which they see the world as a positive place, brimming with opportunity.

It reminds me of a parable often told by Akio Morita, the co-founder of SONY Corporation, which was built from the ashes of World War II and developed the first magnetic recording tape, eventually becoming the first Japanese company listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

In this 1950s parable, two shoe salesmen were assigned to a rustic and undeveloped part of the world. The first salesman wired back to his office: “No prospect of sales – nobody here wears shoes.” But the other salesman cabled: “No one wears any shoes here. We can dominate the market – send all available stock immediately.”

Lawyers are usually smart, nimble and capable of envisioning a host of future possibilities. But we are trained to spot, predominantly, the possible problems and not the opportunities. In my experience coaching lawyers through the sales process, I have noted that this is possibly the biggest and most common obstacle to their success. If you cannot see victory, you cannot seize it.

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