Every Lawyer Is a Seller – And We Have the Data to Prove It

Contrary to the stereotype that lawyers are either “finders, minders, or grinders,” there is no one-size-fits-all approach to business development. Every lawyer has the potential to be a seller – and we have the research to prove it.

Since 2015, GrowthPlay has taken a page from the corporate sales world by using a strengths-based assessment to help lawyers uncover their innate business development aptitudes. After assessing thousands of lawyers from more than 100 firms, we can say with authority that every lawyer – yes, everyone! – is a seller.

Want even better news? There are six different approaches that work, and more than 98% of lawyers have the innate wiring to be successful in at least one of them.

The message: Lawyers need to stop asking themselves if they have the potential to be successful at business development and start focusing on how they can do it in a way that allows them to work to their strengths to accelerate results.

Our findings are based on a three-year sample of 4,212 lawyers and other “doer-seller” professionals who took a strengths-based assessment to better understand their natural sales aptitude. GrowthPlay’s six “Selling Styles” are:

  1. Integrators (Traditional “Consultative” Seller): Lawyers who sell the full array of a firm’s services by proactively uncovering needs and positioning solutions to address business problems the client doesn’t know how to resolve.
  2. Activators (Traditional “Hunter”): Lawyers who focus almost exclusively on developing net new business or reinvigorating dormant contacts. They bring business in the door and hand it off but are not typically responsible for ongoing client development.
  3. Advocates (Traditional “Account Manager”): Lawyers who focus on optimizing sales by leveraging relationships within an existing set of contacts. This includes increasing work from existing clients, as well as expanding sales through cross-selling and client referrals.
  4. Alliance Builders (Traditional “Indirect” Seller): Lawyers who develop business through internal or external referral networks.
  5. Educators (Traditional “Specialized Solution” Sellers): Lawyers who are “resident experts” and seek to maximize sales within their area of expertise. These individuals often collaborate with others when selling to prospects or existing clients.
  6. Inventors (Traditional “Product” Seller): Lawyers who focus on introducing new or innovative services that address new problems or improve the way existing needs were previously handled.

Of these six “selling styles,” more than 98% of lawyers demonstrate aptitude in one of these roles, and 92% were a match for two or more of the roles.

The three most common profiles for attorneys are the Advocate (89%), Educator (71%), and Alliance Builder (70%). The three profiles where fewer attorneys match are the Inventor (50%), Integrator (30%), and Activator (24%).

About the Research

GrowthPlay partnered with The Chally Group, a research-based technology platform that uses an assessment with broad applicability across industries to predict success in different sales roles. The assessment measures a person’s capacity (innate wiring) across 138 competencies attributed to high-performing sellers.

The database draws on five decades of research and benchmark studies of 18 different sales roles. With a normative sample of over 600,000 adults with broad representation of race, ethnicity, age, gender, national origin, and global geography, the assessment is highly validated and has been used by commercial sales organizations for years in the selection and hiring of salespeople.

Using the strengths-based assessment, lawyers are able to see their top overall sales strengths, as well as how well they match to the GrowthPlay “Selling Styles”, which are based on six of the pre-validated Chally roles that most closely align with the way lawyers sell.

The “How” of Business Development Success

Building a book of business doesn’t look the same for every lawyer. There are a variety of factors, including aptitude, discipline, and situation (level of experience, type of practice, type of market, etc.), that impact business development performance.

That said, based on over 20 years of coaching and consulting with lawyers on business development and strategic growth, GrowthPlay has identified three underlying philosophies shared by high-performing business developers (aka “rainmakers”):

  • A genuine desire to build authentic relationships with clients and prospects
  • An “other-centered” approach to helping solve problems and add value
  • Being disciplined and intentional in executing on business development activities

While there is a set of skills underlying these philosophies that every lawyer should master, simply knowing what to do to build business does not guarantee results if they don’t know how to do it – or if they think they don’t have what it takes.

A key distinction of Chally’s research is its focus on predicting potential for success, not just discovering broad traits. This allows firms to unlock capacity and tap into a person’s business development abilities across all stages of their career.

Building a Strengths-Based Business Development Culture

Law firms shouldn’t, and can’t, afford to rely on a small subset of attorneys to generate the majority of business for their firms. Among the ways firms can take advantage of this research:

Awareness: Firms should set the tone early that every lawyer can be successful at business development. When lawyers are made aware of their innate sales aptitudes, they are more likely to invest time in business development activities than they would if they don’t know if they can be successful.  

Activation: Law firms can support BD activation with a set of consistent practices and approaches to help lawyers in targeting, relationship building, transitioning, sales execution, and client experience. Training and coaching combined with a common sales methodology, language, and best practices that are integrated throughout the firm is a great place to start.

Acceleration: A strengths-based approach to business development is one of the best means of improving performance. Aligning an attorney’s business development approach to their strengths helps generate business in ways that come more naturally to them.

Collaboration: Firms that understand the collective aptitudes of their attorneys can promote new and different ways of collaboration. Matching people of different styles allows them to be more effective across a broader range of business development activities.

Inclusivity: Predictive assessments play an important role in uncovering potential in people who have not had the same opportunities to perform. This is particularly important for historically underrepresented groups. Rather than (consciously or unconsciously) labeling lawyers as “finders, minders, or grinders,” predictive assessments help identify where unlocked potential may live.

When attorneys understand that they have innate sales potential, they are more confident and motivated to invest in business development. This provides firms with a larger pool of revenue generators and a more diversified approach to creating consistent, long-term growth.