Nader Pishdad

How McDermott, Will & Emery took a progressive approach to challenge conventional thinking and drive growth

“Sales” – the word often has a negative connotation among lawyers.  Images flash in their minds – used car lots, snake oil, telemarketing. Sales is a job that many lawyers aren’t particularly excited to do. That’s why they went to law school.

But lawyers (just like the rest of us) ARE selling and NEED to be selling. It’s no secret that some of the most successful are referred to as “rainmakers”. Firms rely on them to create new opportunities and leverage the vast network they’ve established during their careers to grow business. With that said, these natural rainmakers are few and far between and any given firm could greatly benefit from finding or developing more of them.

Added to a lawyer’s aversion to sell is a recent industry trend: legal services are increasingly commoditized. Firms must compete for and win business more often on price alone, which makes for a very difficult sales environment.

Competing outside of price

A number of factors have contributed to commoditization of law services in recent decades: (1) an influx of law school applicants and graduates – 8% higher in 2018 than 2017, (2) clients who are more cost-conscious and moving less sophisticated legal tasks in-house, (3) the emergence of low cost, on-demand legal advisory services and (4) a decrease in hourly-billing contracts.

To stay competitive and win more business, today’s most progressive law firms are eager to develop sales capability and find areas of differentiation outside of price.

Rory Channer, Chief Business Officer at McDermott, Will & Emery (MWE) confronted this issue head on – “we had to change some hearts and minds internally to re-think the way we develop new business,” says Channer.

MWE partnered with Challenger to help evolve its Business Development team, utilizing concepts of the Challenger insight-led approach to further enhance the commercial conversations its attorneys have with clients. Delivering commercial insight enabled the firm to be more forward thinking, to elevate conversations above price and, ultimately, see impressive financial returns.

Differentiating in the legal field with challenger

In total, MWE has trained over 200 individuals within the firm on the Challenger methodology. The firm uses a referral only model to advertise the training opportunity, instead of mandating the program. This helps create a ground-swell of demand for the training when individuals hear feedback and see results from their trained colleagues.

“The concepts at the center of Challenger apply in Law and other professional services industries as well,” says Channer, “we just need to be willing to admit that selling is everywhere.”

Nader Pishdad