It’s the customer, stupid

Law students want dream jobs. Law associates want to be stars and make partner.

What is one “secret” to securing the dream job and excelling once there? A key to both is to focus on the “customer.” Easy enough, right? In the law students’ case, the customer is the future employer. In the associates’ case, the customer is the partner or the client.

There are a bunch of business books that are instructive here. One that is particularly helpful is “How to Sell a Lobster,” by entrepreneur Bill Bishop.

The main point of the book is to be successful at selling, you need to think like a customer. Good advice for selling and also good advice for getting a legal job, keeping partners and clients happy, and generating new clients.

Think like your customer

The author provides a relatable example of getting inside the mind of customers in a restaurant who don’t want to appear greedy when ordering and, at the same time, are drawn to specials. So, the author reasons, instead of offering “Would you like a lobster with that?,” simply create a special that includes the lobster add-on. This strategy takes into account that people like specials - it sounds more fun. And customers prefer to visualize small, tidy packages, something quick and easy. Finally, if it is part of the menu, then guests have permission to order it.

As another clear example, the author notes that you would not sell the captain of the Titanic more champagne, when he really needs more lifeboats.

In both cases, the key is to switch the focus to the person you are trying to serve and, importantly, off you.

Law Students

Take note. Look at your job interview through your potential employer’s eyes. Really dig deep like the restaurant example. Sure you have credentials but are any of them relevant at all to helping the employer achieve its goals? What do your moot court and journal experience have to do with getting the employer what it wants or needs? What are the employer’s (and their clients’) real problems? You need to understand their challenges before you can determine whether and how you can help. If the employer is a law firm it may be dealing with the challenges of greater pricing competition, practice efficiency, and commoditization of legal work. If so, perhaps you can you draw on previous work experience (either in or outside the legal field) to demonstrate your ability to effectively deal with some of these issues. For example, technology experience or social media prowess may be helpful.

Law Associates

What does the partner really need? What are the things the partner is thinking about? Your project may be discreet. A memo or a deposition. Is your perfectly cited research memo which is responsive to his request really the extent of what he needs? Or would it be helpful for you to figure out what else should be done on the case and participate in strategizing? Would it be helpful for you to look into an issue or two on your own and see if it should be suggested to the team for follow-up?

The partner likely has to keep track of all the facts, analyze them, figure out the legal issues, and consider different alternatives about how to proceed. Once you start thinking like your customer, the partner, you soon begin to realize that there may be many things you can do to be helpful in addition to what is asked.

Similarly, what does a client really need? Does a client want you to pop off about how much you know and all the answers you have or does he want you to just listen to his problems? Maybe some listening with some questions about how his problems are affecting him or his company. What his life would be like without these problems? Perhaps he is not interested in hearing solutions in that (or any) conversation.

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