Published: 2008-03-26

Questions to Ask Before Asking for Law Firm Business

Imagine you're sitting across the table from a potential client you'd like to work with. The right place to start is by uncovering the client's needs.

The question is, how do you go about uncovering those needs?

This depends on which of the following scenarios you find yourself in:

A) They agreed to talk to you but you don't know what their needs are, or whether they have any needs you can help them with. This is the type of conversation that often follows hitting if off with someone at a networking meeting;

or,

B) They have contacted you to discuss your representing them in a specific situation. This might be due to proposed or pending litigation, a proposed acquisition, or a proposed compliance audit.

Each of these situations calls for a specific questioning approach. In Scenario A, your questions will be broad to gather the big picture of their industry, organization and possible legal needs. In Scenario B, your questions will be considerably more focused, dealing with the matter at hand.

Remember, in either scenario, you want to have a comprehensive understanding of how the client perceives the situation, and what the client's needs are, before you even consider making a pitch.

For Scenario A, you want to ask questions designed to uncover potential legal trouble spots. Questions can include:

  • What is the most difficult thing about your job?
  • What are your biggest challenges?
  • What are the biggest challenges facing your company?
  • What keeps you up at night?
  • If there was one thing you could get off your desk, what would that be?
  • What are the company's legal "hot spots"?
  • Tell me about your legal department.
  • Describe your in-house legal team.
  • How does your legal department interact with your business units?
  • How do you split your in-house/outside counsel responsibilities?
  • In your mind, what distinguishes a great outside counsel from a good one?
  • What is your biggest frustration in dealing with outside counsel?
  • What firms do you currently use and for what?
  • How satisfied are you with your current representation?
  • What do you know about our firm?
  • Do you think there is an opportunity to represent your company (in this area)?

As you ask these questions, make note of any opportunities and ask more questions about those specific areas.

Scenario B calls for a thorough exploration of the situation that prompted them to call you. Before selling, you will want to ask questions like these:

  • What prompted your call?
  • How did you come to call us?
  • Tell me about your current situation.
  • When did this problem first come to your attention?
  • How long has this problem been going on?
  • Does this impact this division exclusively or are other divisions also impacted?
  • Is this the only lawsuit you have arising from this situation?
  • How valuable would it be to resolve this problem/do this deal?
  • What impact will it have on the company if this problem is not resolved/this deal doesn't happen?
  • What would you like to see happen?
  • What results do you hope to achieve?
  • What decisions do you want to be consulted on during the course of a matter?
  • How do you go about making a decision on whom to hire?
  • What criteria are important to you in deciding which outside counsel to hire?
  • Who else is involved in the decision making process?
  • When do you expect to make a decision?

Whether you're meeting with a client in Scenario A or B, these questions will help you get a better sense of what the client needs. With the answers, you will be able to formulate a much more convincing presentation of the value you would bring to help them solve their most pressing problems.

"Asking for business" does not need to be a daunting task, as long as you focus on the *asking* part.

***

Want even more good questions to ask? I highly recommend the book Let's Get Real or Let's Not Play: The Demise of Dysfunctional Selling and the Advent of Helping Clients Succeed by Mahan Khalsa. Despite its somewhat odd title, this book is a primer on selling with a clear focus on discovering a client's needs. The premise of the book is No Guessing--"We shouldn't guess about what the solution is supposed to solve, how we will measure success, what constraints would impede success, what resources are available to apply towards success, what steps will be involved in the decision process, who will be involved, what criteria they will apply, etc." By asking the right questions, you will learn the answers.



Sara Holtz is founder of ClientFocus, a coaching and training company that helps successful lawyers become successful rainmakers. Visit ClientFocus to learn about her coaching and workshops. She is also the founder of the Women Rainmakers Roundtable, a unique program that brings together successful women partners to build their books of business. Find out more about the program by reading her blog.