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The Art and Science of Persuasion

Persuasion in the Law Firm

What I see today that’s different from years ago, is that clients don’t just ask lawyers, “What should I do?” They also ask, “Why should I do it?” This is where persuasion comes into play. It’s often perceived as a form of manipulation or deception or for deal closing. But persuasion is NOT manipulation but instead is a negotiating process and learning opportunity, affording participants a path to shared solutions. It’s important for people to understand persuasion for what it is -- not manipulating but negotiating.

According to Harvard Business Review, “Credibility grows out of two sources: expertise and relationships. If you have a history of well informed, sound judgment, your clients and colleagues will trust your expertise. If you’ve demonstrated you can work in the best interest of others, they will have confidence in your relationships.”

I profess knowing as much or more about the business and industry as your client does is what truly differentiates you fromother lawyers and will ensure you make the transition from vendor of legal services to trusted advisor. Clients want to work with people they know, like and trust. Make it easy for them to see you as such. Harvard Business Review also advises:

If you are weak on the expertise side, bolster your position by learning more through formal and informal education—for examples

  • Have conversations with in-house experts (like the marketing and BD professionals or “revenue enablers,” as the great folks at Calibrate-Legal call them),

  • hire recognized outside experts, and

  • launch pilot projects (like client feedback or “voice of the client” programs).

To fill in the relationship gap, try meeting one-on-one with key people or involving like-minded partners who have good rapport with your clients. Stop building silos and start building bridges.

  • Tangibly, describe the clients’ benefits of your position. The fastest way to get a child to the grocery store is to point out the lollipops by the cash register. That is not deception – it is persuasion. Focus on shared advantages between you and your client. When no shared advantages are apparent, adjust your own position.

  • Show meaningful evidence. Ordinary evidence won’t do. Make numerical data more compelling with examples, stories, and metaphors that have an emotional impact. You should have both quantitative and qualitative data to support your case.

  • Adjust your own emotional tone to match each audience’s ability to receive your message. Learn how your others have interpreted past events and sense how they will probably interpret your proposal. Test key individuals’ possible reactions.

In my work with lawyers, I have seen many litigators fail miserably at persuasion in the business development setting, because they often use the same tactics that work well in the courtroom, in the boardroom – that won’t work. Here are a few common mistakes:

Positional bargaining. They strongly state their position upfront, and then through a process of persistence and logic they try to push their case as though a zero-sum game was the only option. In reality, setting out a strong position at the start of a persuasion effort gives potential opponents something to grab onto – and fight against. It’s far better to present your position with the finesse and reserve.

Resisting compromise. Too many lawyers see compromise as a weakness, but it is essential to constructive persuasion — and being a trusted advisor. Before agreeing to partner with any outside counsel, they want to see that the lawyer is flexible enough to respond to their concerns, understand their needs, and truly know their business and industry. The “Challenger Sale” model promotes knowing as much or more about the prospect’s business and industry as they do. This makes it easier for a lawyer to communicate as a trusted advisor rather than a pushy sales person. To persuade meaningfully, we must not only listen to others but also incorporate their perspectives into ours. That’s why knowing what is most important to your client (which may not always be winning a case) is hugely valuable.

Presenting great arguments. In persuading people to change their minds, great arguments matter. No doubt. But arguments are only one part of the equation. Other factors matter just as much, such as the lawyer’s credibility and his ability to create a mutually beneficial frame for a position, connect on the right emotional level, and communicate through compelling narratives that make shared solutions come alive. Asking meaningful questions helps to facilitate this process.

Is Persuasion an Art or Science?

The reality is, persuasion is not one versus the other. Persuasion is in fact -- both. The art of persuasion is a concept that often mystifies lawyers. It is so complex – and so dangerous when mishandled – that many would rather just avoid it altogether. However, persuasion can be a force for enormous good, galvanizing change, pulling people together, forging constructive solutions and moving ideas forward. Persuasion is not convincing but is instead, learning and negotiating. Furthermore, persuasion requires practice, especially as today’s “business of law” contingencies demanded by clients make persuasion more necessary than ever.

The science of persuasion is just as compelling. According to Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., “Researchers have been studying the factors that influence us to say “yes” to the requests of others for over 60 years.” It would be nice if people considered all the available information in and engage in critical thinking, but they don’t. In the face of information overloaded, we need shortcuts to guide our decision-making. Cialdini’s research in his classic work on “Influence and Persuasion,” has identified six of these shortcuts as universals that guide human behavior, they are:

  • Reciprocity,

  • Scarcity,

  • Authority,

  • Consistency,

  • Likability, and

  • Consensus.

Six scientifically validated Principles of Persuasion that provide for small practical, often costless changes that can lead to big differences in your ability to influence and persuade others in an entirely ethical way. They are the secrets from the science of persuasion. Understanding these shortcuts and employing them in an ethical manner can significantly increase the chances that someone will be persuaded by your request.

Impact of Personality

Personality type has a lot to do with one’s comfort level in communicating effectively – but less with one’s ability. We cannot change our temperament, but we can change our communication style. It’s a choice, really. Those who remain lawyer-centric or firm-centric will fail -- and those who become client-centric will succeed.

“Customer feedback is a technique B2C companies have used for decades in order to engage and learn from their consumers about what they like, what they don’t like and of course, to get ideas about how to evolve their product lines. Law firms are not comfortable with this type of client interaction because they cannot sufficiently control the outcome,” states Jennifer Smuts, CMO at Connolly Gallagher LLP in Wilmington, Delaware. “Having been in the legal marketing industry for nearly two decades, I have only seen relationship success grow via the client interview process.” When “sales” is the name of the game it truly is a choice to engage or not engage.

Most practicing lawyers are “thinkers.” They often fall under the personality of ISTJ, meaning Introversion, Sensing, Thinking, Judging. ISTJ is an abbreviation used in the publications of the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to refer to one of sixteen personality types. The MBTI assessment was developed from the work of prominent psychiatrist Carl G. Jung in his book Psychological Types. Jung proposed a psychological typology based on the theories of cognitive functions that he developed through his clinical observations.

From Jung's work, others developed psychological typologies. Jungian personality assessments include the MBTI assessment, developed by Isabel Briggs Myers and her daughter, Katharine Cook Briggs, and the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, developed by David Keirsey. Keirsey is the test I use when working with lawyers.

Keirsey refers to ISTJs as Inspectors, one of the four types belonging to the temperament he called, Guardians. ISTJs account for about 10–14% of the population in general -- and the majority population of lawyers. Most CEOs, however, are ENTJs or Field Marshals, one of the four types belonging to the temperament called, Rationals. If your listeners are saying, “But our clients are GCs…” Remember, GCs are not law practitioners – they are business people who have a law degree. They are living their daily lives with their eye on the corporate vision, mission, and strategy…not the ever-changing law or bigger regulatory landscape -- and they report directly to the CEO.

According to the Keirsey Personality Sorter, the practicing lawyer or “Inspector” personality traits are as follows:

  1. Reliable - Inspectors are characterized by decisiveness in practical affairs. They are the guardians of institutions, and can best be described as being steadfast, dedicated, and consistent. They can be counted on to follow through—to get the job done in a precise and thorough manner. Inspectors are rock solid dependable—responsible and trustworthy—standing as honorable men and women of great character. In all matters, their highest commitment is to be diligent in keeping their duties.

  2. Straightforward - A promise made is a promise kept. For Inspectors, they naturally communicate a message of trustworthiness and stability, which can make them successful. More often than not, they are conservative. Their home and work environments are kept neat, orderly, and simple.

  3. Institutional - Inspectors are likely to be involved in community service organizations that transmit traditional values. Whether it is donating their time or their financial resources, they invest for future returns that benefit society. They understand and appreciate the contributions these institutions make in preserving cultural values, and national pride. At work, Inspectors are patient with established institutional procedures.

  4. Inspecting - Inspectors are careful examiners, always attentive in their scrutinizing. They must ensure that all is certified as right and proper. They pay close attention to the details, so that no irregularities or discrepancies are permitted. When it comes to the due diligence required, they do not cut corners or take any shortcuts—nothing escapes their inspecting eyes. They are issue spotters. When they uncover errors or inconsistencies, they are eager to bring about correction, and are not afraid to confront those who have missed the mark – as I am sure many of your listeners know.

  5. Standardizing - Inspectors quietly see to it that uniform quality of product is maintained, and that those around them uphold certain standards of attitude and conduct. They are most comfortable when people know their duties, follow the guidelines, and operate within the rules. Rules are there to be followed, they say, not meant to be worked around for any reason.

  6. Conservative - Inspectors are firm and consistent; they make the rules of the game clear and expect them to be followed. They do not tolerate rebelliousness, nonconformity, waywardness, creativity or even innovation. When there is work to be done, there is no time for fun and games—play must be earned through hard work. This correlates to the high stress levels, divorce and suicide rates of lawyers, as well.

It should be noted that lawyers spend most of their lives with other lawyers (professionally: at the firm, in social settings, in court, in professional associations, and even personally: as they often have parents who were lawyers or are even married to other lawyers) so they live in a personal and professional bubble where they may not realize that the majority of others do know have the same personality temperament and may not communicate the same as they do -- and thus, they sometimes see the others as wrong.

Communication Tips

If you are a practicing lawyer, I would advise that you get to know everything you can about your client from a business perspective: industry, company, person, competitor, for examples -- as well as legal perspective -- before you meet with him or her. Your law librarian, marketing professional and business development executives can help you find this information. After that, directly ask the client the meaningful questions that remain unanswered. Clients expect this and respect this! Listen to your clients as they are telling you how to partner with them – not sell to them.

The challenge is, ISTJs, men especially, disdain asking questions for fear they may appear ignorant. In law school they do now teach students how to interview a client or assess prospect needs – only how to depose a witness. This makes business development a really big challenge for lawyers.

Remember in being a trusted advisor to clients, consultative selling is about pulling, creating attraction to you. Lawyers cannot, and should not, push legal services. Think about it, “You cannot push a rope.” However, you can, and should, create a comfortable place where the client will buy legal services from you. Clients want to do business with lawyers they know, like and trust. Be that lawyer.

If you are a law firm business development and marketing professional, remember that your personality will likely not readily align with that of the lawyers to whom you must report. This may be a struggle for you. Understand your own personality type as well as that of the lawyer with whom you are working and adjust your communication style accordingly. If you can find the lawyers who actively listen to their clients, you can make great strides in helping them succeed, which is your mission.

Knowing the job title or position of the client who buys from your firm, will help you greatly in your mission. Most lawyers do not take the time to learn the client’s business and industry inside-out as they should much less the client’s likely temperament. But you can. Just knowing the person’s job title will give you clues. Then ensure the lawyers ask clients meaningful questions…questions that validate that which they think is true or reveal that which they do not know – and even still, that unveil latent needs the client may not even recognize he or she has.

And remember, feedback is a sign of respect. Be courageous! Ask your lawyers to provide feedback on your efforts -- and then absolutely remind them to do the same with their clients.

Jenn Smuts: “Customer feedback is a technique B2C companies have used for decades in order to engage and learn from their consumers about what they like, what they don’t like and of course, to get ideas about how to evolve their product lines. Law firms are not comfortable having this type of client interaction due to the fact that they can not sufficiently control the outcome.” states Jennifer Smuts, CMO at Connolly Gallagher LLP in Wilmington, Delaware. “Having been in the legal marketing industry for nearly two decades I have only seen relationship success grow via the client interview process.” When sales is the name of the game it truly is a choice to engage or not engage.

Jenn Smuts is the Chief Marketing Officer for ILN member firm, Connolly Gallagher LLP. With nearly 20 years of experience in law firm strategic planning; marketing and business development; individual coaching; budgeting; and team leadership, Jenn is a seasoned legal marketing professional. She has a history of building consensus within a department, among attorneys and across functional lines. Jenn also has experience as a law school guest lecturer on various concepts of the business of law, including attorney marketing, business development and professional development. She most recently joined 2020 Women on Boards– a national campaign dedicated to increasing the percentage of women on corporate boards to 20% by 2020.


About the Author: Susan’s goal is to help women in business communicate effectively with the world -- and to help men communicate effectively with women in business!

Susan’s training draws on her experiences as a sales executive in the financial services industry, her business development and leadership training in the legal industry, and her graduate-level studies in Communication.

Susan’s passion for helping women succeed is long-standing. She co-founded “Women’s Business Connection” in Massachusetts and “Girl Power” with over 6,000 followers. She also teaches “Girls in Politics,” a program created to introduce girls to politics, policy, and the branches of government. Susan is currently enrolled in Cornell University’s “Institute for Women’s Entrepreneurship.” Her enthusiasm for the benefits of building meaningful relationships has made her a great connector and as such, she has over 15,000 followers on social media. As an ENFJ, she excels at building relationships and teaching others to do the same. She helps professionals communicate effectively in order to develop new business. She trains professionals to use client-centric insights to assess needs and identify solutions that meet strategic goals.

Susan has worked with some of the most prestigious law firms and financial services institutions in the world. She was graduated with honors from Hawaii Pacific University with a Master of Arts degree in Communication and she was graduated from Louisiana State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in both Political Science and Journalism, with a minor in Marketing. She also studied Marketing at Northeastern University in Boston. Susan has lived in Louisiana, Switzerland, Italy, Massachusetts, Hawaii, and now, California.

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