You stand up at the partners’ retreat or the executive committee meeting. You’ve submitted a written proposal to launch an innovation initiative, maybe related to pricing or workflow or client development, and now you’re making your case in person.
When you finish, a partner raises his hand and says something like, “I don’t see why we should do this. None of our peer firms appear to have done it. None of our clients are asking for it. I’m making lots of money as it is. What do you have to say to that?” If this sounds like a situation you’ve encountered, here are some suggested responses for your consideration.
Try These Responses
1) “If our peer firms were doing this, they wouldn’t advertise that fact to us. Bragging about their innovations would give us advance warning and the opportunity to counter. The whole point of innovation is to go first, to gain a lead over everyone else.”
Attorney Jordan Furlong is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and a member of the Advisory Board of the American Bar Association’s Center for Innovation. He is a leading analyst of the global legal market and forecaster of its future development.
2) “Customers never ask for innovations. What they ask for is better value, and when they see it, they buy it. Our corporate clients have consistently told us they want more value from their law firms. This initiative will improve our value proposition to clients.”
3) “I’d like to make more money. I’d like everyone in this room to make more money. This innovation is designed to (improve our profit margins / grow business from existing clients / enhance our internal productivity), and therefore to increase our income.”
What’s important, however, is to deliver a one- or two-line answer and leave it at that. Don’t get into a lengthy argument with the partner – simply counter the objection with a brief, reasonable response. The partner wants to fight you, because that’s familiar ground for him – he knows how to litigate an issue until it dies of exhaustion.
But remember, you’re not trying to persuade this lawyer. He’s almost certainly not going to change his position. You’re trying to persuade all the other people in the room who are watching and listening attentively, to see how this back-and-forth goes.
Many lawyers are persuaded not by the merits of an argument, but by its conduct. I know that sounds odd, but it’s true – they’re impressed less with the accuracy of a position than with who’s putting forth their position more rationally and professionally. They look for signs that one side is more assured, responds more quickly and easily to challenges, and has done their homework more thoroughly. It’s the lawyer way.
Don’t Make It Personal
So resist the temptation to argue heatedly with skeptics about how important this innovation is, how the firm’s future depends on it, and so forth. Don’t get pulled into a cross-examination, and don’t make it personal. Instead, be calm, measured, reasonable, and brief. Parry objections concisely, one after another, with prepared responses, until the objections peter out. Wear the other side down by cool, patient attrition – the other lawyers in the room will admire it.
Carry yourself with the quiet confidence not only that you’re right about this innovation, but that you’ll get your way in the end. It will get you a lot farther than you might think.