Teaching “Sales” to IIT-Kent Law Studentsa visiting speaker for Firms, Clients, and Building a Career in Law with Professor Ian Turvill from Freeborn Peters

I recently spoke at IIT-Kent Law School at Ian Turvill’s pilot program for marketing-minded law students, called “Firms, Clients, and Building a Career in Law.”

I like to immediately disabuse them of the “Selling Is Telling” model that too many inexperienced lawyers use. Instead of focusing on the prospects’ needs, they spend too much time talking about themselves and their firms.  So I started by asking Ian to “credential” me in his introduction.

Instead of starting my presentation, I bragged about my credentials…

I droned on and on about my amazing experience, where I went to law school and how well I did there, awards I’d received, big cases I’d won, etc. Some of it was true, some of it wasn’t; it didn’t matter, I was just making a point. When I’d finished with my narcissistic monologue, I joked –“So? Do you like me more now than you did two minutes ago? Do I seem smarter? Do you want to hire me? Did all that talking about myself persuade you, or did I just sound like a jerk?”

They were laughing; they got the point.

Business development is not bragging about yourself, and it helped provide context for the more-effective approach the we discussed for the remaining hour.

ultimate-law-firm-associate-marketing-checklist-ross-fishman-cover_largeIan’s entire program was very well received by the eager, motivated students. They know the challenging marketplace they were going to be graduating into, and saw this elective class as a way to get a leg up on the competition.  And in this economy some of them might find that they need to hang out a shingle at some point as well.

Ian had selected my book, “The Ultimate Law Firm Associate’s Marketing Checklist,” as mandatory reading for the class, and many of the kids asked me to sign it after class, which was so cute. (Buy it here on Amazon.com.)

Few law schools offer these types of practical classes, so big kudos to IIT-Kent for agreeing to Ian’s proposal.  He’d invited me to speak and on which of his approved topics. I’d suggested that there were a number of classes I’d like to teach, e.g. strategy, branding, niche marketing, websites and online marketing, networking, client service, innovation, social media…  But after collecting his preferred group of faculty, Ian didn’t have one to teach the “Business Origination” program, so he asked me if I’d be willing to handle that one.

Selling Skills is an important topic, and certainly one I’ve spoken on at law firm retreats many times before.  But it’s not one I generally recommend for law students or younger lawyers.  I don’t want them thinking they need to “sell” anything, at least not yet. I don’t want to scare them by suggesting that they must learn Sales at the same time that they’re learning where the coffee machine is.

Let’s teach them about becoming great lawyers first.

Let’s teach them about networking and forming relationships, about joining bar associations and being active in your local community. Help them become empathetic service-oriented professional, and stepping into the clients’ shoes.  There’s so much they need to learn when they’re new.

So I refocused the Sales program slightly, to show them that Sales isn’t a negative word, that done appropriately, it’s about forming relationships, listening, and helping people solve their problems.