I sit in my ergonomic chair, slightly reclined, hands clasped behind my head. In front of me are the tools of my trade. Touchtone phone, pads and pens, computer keyboard, open Internet browser. The all-important calculator with the big buttons. I am here to learn how to close deals. Lawyers call it rainmaking. In other words, I work in sales.
I met Joe Closer shortly after law school. Joe Closer is a figment of a corporate trainer’s imagination, but to me, he’s quite real. Joe Closer makes money by making quota. His compensation consists of a base salary, commissions, a bonus each month, and a bonus each quarter. Joe Closer is good at his job. He rarely misses. He helps me hit the mark through his contagious enthusiasm and persistence. I like Joe Closer because he taught me how to close a deal.
I make the first cold call on an account in California, expecting good things. As the phone rings, I sit straight and clear my throat. I want to project confidence and authority. The line picks up.
“Lawyer Bob speaking!”
“This is Chris from sales. Did I catch you at a good time?”
“Not really. What do you want?”
“I’d like the opportunity to demonstrate online research products that will help you in your practice of law.”
Silence. “What does it cost?”
“Well,” I stammer, “it depends on your needs. How are you currently doing your legal research?”
“Cases. Statutes. You know: Primary law. What’s the cost?”
I click the mouse. I don’t know the answer. I take too long. I can feel Lawyer Bob’s frustration brewing through the phone. I feel like hanging up. Joe Closer looks at me, wearing his look of amused disapproval. Joe Closer wouldn’t hang up now. He would hang in there and find the answer.
“Listen, this ain’t rocket science.” Click.
One of my colleagues has been with the company four years. Like me, she is required to make 50 dials per day. In four years, that’s more than 50,000 outbound calls. That’s a lot of hang-ups. The next call took place in my imagination, in which I subjected Lawyer Bob to a frothy-mouthed sales tirade he couldn’t refuse. This is a needs-based product, Lawyer Bob. Good luck in your practice, because you’re going to be out of it this time next year. “Where do I sign?” he begs. I don’t call him back, of course. To close deals I must push aside my ego and let hang-ups be hang-ups. Perhaps later I’ll catch him at a better time.
The phone rings. “This is Chris from sales. How can I help you?”
“I need access to online legal materials. Can you help me?”
“Sure! Are you in front of a computer?”
“Are your cases and statutes annotated?”
“Certainly. Pull up an Internet browser and I’ll show you.”
“Hold on. I need to boot my computer. The dog is biting my ankles.”
“Boot your computer, pull up a browser, and we’ll head to a website.”
“My dog is such a pest. My computer is on. What should I do?”
“Open an Internet browser . . . ”
“I’m working a case and I need to research dog bite liability.”
“Open an Internet browser . . . ”
“My computer is on. Where should I go? Did you say the Internet?”
It went on like this. I couldn’t complete a sentence without interruption. My replies became monosyllabic. “Yes!” and “No!” and “Sure!” and “What?” We began to exchange verbal gunfire. It continued until I heard these words: “I have a learning disability.”
That stopped me from speaking for a moment. I took a breath and regrouped. Her learning disability caused her mind to run in circles. I had not understood the cause of our communication problem, so our entire conversation, tense and heated and exasperating, was born of ignorance.
I asked if I could follow up later. She said I could follow up later, as the firm would grow and she would need access to online legal research, and she said it’s okay if I call later as long as I don’t mind her being candid. I said I don’t mind candidness, if that’s a word, and she laughed, I laughed, and we built some solid rapport. I became a little more like Joe Closer.
Writing this note made me think of William Zinsser. Zinsser, author and one-time Yale writing professor, says that writing logical, clear sentences, even in a field like mathematics, will allow you to get a better grasp on the subject. I’ve put my sales experience on paper and I’ve seen how, as a new lawyer, it relates to practicing law. In his book Writing to Learn, Zinsser quotes schoolteacher Joan Countryman: “What are any of the disciplines but a way in which people try to make sense of the world or the universe?” In law, we try to make sense of the world by understanding each other. By understanding each other we solve problems. That is how Joe Closer closes deals.
Chris Bradley is an editor at FindLaw, a Thomson Reuters business, building websites for lawyers, and currently moonlights as a lawyer himself with Bradley|Neville Law Firm, LLC. Chris can be reached at 651-808-0791 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Copyright 2008, American Bar Association.