Law Firm Requires New Associates to Have Sales Background

Pam Scholefield, law firm marketingSan Diego construction law firm Scholefield Associates, P.C., is hiring new associates with a unique requirement -- a sales background. The firm says it is is borrowing heavily from the corporate world where the role of technical sales is fundamental to most successful business plans.

The 3-lawyer firm is molding their “sales attorney” role to be very similar to that of the typical sales engineer. Both positions require individuals with specialized training to understand the clients’ needs.

“I see no difference in comparing our role as an attorney to that of an engineer solving a problem,”  said Lead attorney Pam Scholefield. “The job function is to offer a results-oriented service that the client needs or wants. It doesn’t matter if it’s legal advice or some sort of technical solution.” 

"It is almost unheard of that a firm of any size would dedicate a new attorney to the role of bringing in new business. Most small firms feel they cannot justify allocating manpower to non-billable tasks," said spokesman Bryan Weaver.

Scholefield herself was once a sales engineer for the General Electric Co., eventually becoming an Area Manager in Southern California. She even holds a Professional Engineer’s (PE) license from Colorado.  “Today, my clients are builders, architects, engineers, contractors, and equipment suppliers, these are the same types of clients I had when I was a sales engineer,” says Scholefield. 

A visit to the Careers page of the firm website reveals an opening for:

Associate Attorney- Client Development

  • This is an unprecedented opportunity for the right individual with an outgoing and dynamic personality. If you see yourself more as a rainmaker than you do a litigator, we are interested in your future with us.
  • You will be working under the direction of the firm's business development manager, and be a key player in the firm’s client development and legal marketing activities.
  • We are looking for professionals with experience technical sales, sales engineering, legal marketing, or executive level business development.
  • Previous experience or knowledge of the construction industry is a major plus.
  • You will be the first point of contact for prospective clients, so a good first impression is important.
  • You will not let your law school education go to waste as you must be admitted to practice in California, and may be expected to advise clients and attend hearings.

Interestingly, new research by Suzanne Lowe of Expertise Marketing, reveals that among professional service firms, 86% of respondents want their firm to hire fee-earners who want to market and sell, 51% have made formal efforts to hire fee-earners who want to market and sell.

Suzanne writes, "First, it’s a challenge to find the right set of marketing and business development capabilities, especially if the firm has yet to define them for itself! A firm’s recruiters and hiring staffers need standards to objectively evaluate marketing and business development skills. They can’t be expected to conjure them up in a vacuum. This viewpoint repeats a theme that, by now, rings loudly through this entire survey: there are widely varying definitions of marketing and business development, and a general lack of understanding of the value these functions could deliver in a PSF."

Meanwhile, Scholefield Associates, P.C., isn't waiting. “We are not your typical law firm,” notes Scholefield, “so we’re not going to follow archaic unwritten rules that say a young attorney’s primary role can’t be a rainmaker.” 

 

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Comments (2) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
nancy fox - February 24, 2008 5:24 PM

With law firms, and other professional service firms becoming structured and managed as "real" businesses and with the aggressive objectives of "real" businesses, the call for "selling" professionals, lawyers, accountants,etc. will just continue to grow. While many associates consider learning selling or rainmaking skills optional, I have seen the clear increase in firms requiring these skills and abilities as the price of entry into many firms, and certainly the price of promotion in almost all.

Furthermore, for those professionals who choose not to subscribe to this "sales oriented model" and select themselves out of firms, they will find out how essential selling skills are as they embark on the interview process. They will either need to "sell themselves" as they search for new positions, or sell products or services if they choose to go out on their own.

Any way you slice it, the ability to sell, build relationships, get business, and retain business is the key to freedom and independence. Wouldn't it be wiser, easier, and certainly more effective to teach these skills as part of the legal or professional training, and encourage, even require it during the early associate years? And by showing our younger professionals that client development is much easier through attracting clients, vs. pitching and selling them, it would be a decidedly more palatable process for both lawyers, accountants, and prospects.

Ford Harding - March 9, 2008 9:46 AM

Larry:

There are many potential advantages to hiring sales attorneys. The history of this approach in other professions, suggests that there are a number of hurdles to overcome to make it successful. These include:

1> Making sure that the new position is design into the fabric of the firm and not just glued onto the side. This means that everybodies job is affected in someway by this new approach to business getting. A firm that doesn't note this and educate its other attorneys is likely to suffer from at least two outcomes:a) Some attorneys will think that because someelse has responsibility for sales they can abandon most of their own efforts, b) Other attorneys will freeze the new sales force out in the belief that they own certain accounts .

2) Making sure the new position and the people in it are respected members of the firm. There is a tendency for professionals to feel that anyone who doesn't practice the profession in the traditional way is an ineffectual, contentless dweeb. The best sales attorneys will not stand for this and leave. There needs to be a career path for these people that includes partnersship and practice leadership. Also, the more movement there is between the traditional career path in the firm and the new sales career path, the better, because it reduces the them-versus-us mentality that plagues dedicated sellers in professional firms.

Thanks for a good post.

Ford Harding

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