I wonder if Neil Witmer, Ph.D. understands lawyers, law firms or the legal profession. His reported conclusions may be correct in the context of the industries he normally serves but are not consistent with my experience in the legal profession. Dr. Witmer’s views are reported by Larry Bodine from a recent breakfast meeting resulting in a post called Marketers: Forget the Grinders and Drones. By the way, I am not shooting the messenger I happen to admire and appreciate Larry Bodine for his own hands-on consulting work as well as his prolific contribution to law-related internet content including Lawmarketing ListServ, all of which are superb keep up the good work, Larry! No, here I take issue exclusively with Dr. Witmer because of the views attributed to him with which I disagree.
“According to Witmer, the grinders and drones lack the essential personality elements to develop new business. You cannot change their personalities, and they may be unable to change themselves.”
“Drones”? The expression “Finders, Minders, and Grinders” is cliché and insensitive enough “drones” is an unfortunate term. According to my dictionary, unless Witmer uses “drones” to mean “a humming sound”, “continuous note”, “a musical instrument”, or “a remote-controlled pilotless aircraft or missile”, then he is stuck with: “a male bee in a colony of social bees, which does no work but can fertilize a queen”. My Webster dictionary adds: “Figurative: a person who does no useful work and lives off others”. (I suppose female lawyers can take heart that the term cannot apply to them small consolation.) It is not personality that drives the client attraction process, but a combination of what the lawyer does and the skill to convey it skill that almost every lawyer has or is quite capable of acquiring. If you look closely at a law firm’s top rainmakers, you will notice a wide diversity of personalities. While there is a lot of team-oriented work in a law firm, in many cases the client is choosing the surgeon for the operation the more specialized the work, the less relevant the personality. If heaven forbid, a dear one needed brain surgery, the doctor’s personality is probably the last factor for consideration. (I will yield that in an undifferentiated commodity market personality is far more important but most top firms keep that work to a minimum in favor of specialty work.) Witmer goes on:
“So if a professional lacks drive and confidence, forget them. Leave them in the library or their offices, where they belong. No amount of coaching, training or individual business planning will ever work for them. They will always be people waiting for an assignment from someone else who can generate new business.”
In a good law firm, if a lawyer “lacks drive and confidence”, you don’t forget them you encourage them and if that doesn’t work, you fire them. Good news: encouraging works most of the time many of those who look like naturals today were actually encouraged at some stage. Confidence sometimes must be acquired that happens by being supported not forgotten. There is no discrete sales force in a law firm every lawyer (especially every partner) must interact effectively with prospective and existing clients. I’ll give you that some do it better than others but in most good firms, almost every lawyer can raise his or her game appreciably with effective training and coaching. So I strongly disagree with Dr. Witner’s recommendation that we simply forget about these people. If you look at Dr. Witmer’s bio, perhaps he can be forgiven for not knowing the legal profession there is no evidence he has any relevant experience. His own web site categorizes the people he serves as: CEO’s, HR Executives, Equity Firms and Boards and Sales Executives. On his site he has testimonials from 15 clients among those categories none of whom are law firms. (In case you were curious, none of the bios of members of Witmer’s firm evidences any legal education or experience.) One of the reasons I feel so strongly about this is that over the past 25 years, Edge has worked with almost 400 law firms worldwide up to and including the world’s largest. I can report that the recognized rainmakers do not have a monopoly on Witmer’s “five elements : Drive Persuasion Confidence Organization Relationship Skills ” Most lawyers in good law firms must possess these elements to make it through law school, get hired by a good firm, and then serve demanding, intelligent and sophisticated clients. The head of the Hong Kong office of a major firm reported to me personally that his training with us many years ago contributed greatly to his transformation and success as both a rainmaker and a leader. These comments are common. Why do we give litigators advocacy training why does Tiger Woods have a coach? Many top-notch litigators have all five of Witmer’s elements but are not rainmakers in the traditional sense because that is not their focus. They may slay fire-breathing dragons in court all day in situations that would send mere mortals into the embryonic position but are not comfortable with small talk around the shrimp dish at the bank reception. However, these litigators can be trained to excel in their client relations, to their advantage and to the firms’. There are two Punchlines here: 1) Almost all lawyers (OK there may be a few extreme exceptions) can be trained to dramatically improve their client-relations skills from “Meeting Prospective Clients, Managing Client Expectations to Dealing with Complaints and Getting more Referrals (and much more). I have the anecdotal evidence of many pleasantly surprised law firm Managing Partners to prove this. If not attract new clients, they can get more work from existing clients, cross sell to other areas of the firm and much more. 2) In law, the most important business development comes from ever-enhancing the satisfaction levels of existing clients especially the crown-jewel clients. The very lawyers whom Witmer tells us to forget about may be the glue that holds the most important existing clients to the firm. These so-called non-rainmakers often grow the work of existing clients which is a huge contribution that in many firms goes under-appreciated because it is simply not as sexy as attracting a new client. In many cases the bulk of a firm’s income will be found in the long-term growing book of business from the firm’s top clients Conclusion: I am concernmed that Managing Partners may interpret Dr. Witmer’s message in such a way that they will neglect many of the lawyers in their firms who need help to enhance the skills that are key to the long-term success of the firm. If you have people in your firm that you are tempted to forget, help them. If you won’t, can’t or it doesn’t work, do a mutual favor release them from your custody.