In 1992 after a seven-year career as a litigation paralegal, I decided to move into the world of marketing and selling to lawyers. I knew instinctively that my time “in the trenches” would serve me well as I went to work developing messaging and selling technology software to lawyers.

Having spent three months on a law school campus earning my paralegal certificate, I saw first-hand how law students were converted into lawyers. What I didn’t realize until I entered my new career was how many of the same factors that go into legal training influences the way lawyers buy legal products and services.

Why is the legal vertical so challenging?

1. Law School Creates Lawyers – Like medical school, the competitiveness and demand on law students fundamentally changes their personalities. From LSATs to applications, the competition starts before the first day of class. Drop-out/failing rates and class ranking struggles pervade the psyches of students forcing them to focus inward and manage their time selfishly. The better the school, the higher the class ranking, the better the job at graduation (especially in a tough job market). That competitiveness continues into the firm environment.

2. Law Firms have a Different Business Model – A carry-over from the law school mentality, law firms are a bastion of individuality and competitiveness. Rather than pulling together, law firms are made up of pockets (practice groups) that invariably distrust each other. David Maister’s article Are Law Firms Manageable? first published in The American Lawyer, addresses the issues of distrust and competitiveness, and how they impact firm values.

3. Competition is the Name of the Game – The law school process encourages critical thinking and teaches students to advocate every side of an argument. There is no right or wrong, only winning and losing arguments. Three years of arguing in law school, and it’s no wonder lawyers challenge every claim a vendor makes. As consumers, they question ‘the biggest’ and ‘the best’ and they are risk adverse. Few lawyers want to risk trying something new for fear of making a mistake and suffering the scorn of their peers…in short, they’re not early adopters by nature.

My first position after leaving the law firm was as Vice President of Sales and Marketing for a legal technology company that developed and marketed case/practice management software. From the onset, we knew we had to overcome aging Luddite managing attorneys, and reasoned that within a few short years, younger more technologically inclined lawyers would move into decision-making positions and advocate for more technology. Along with our competition, we truly believed that as younger, more tech-savvy attorneys worked their way up the ranks, they would embrace productivity enhancing technology, and by the new millennium, every attorney would use practice management software.

And yet even today, only 33% of attorneys use case/practice management (according to the 2010 “Perfect Practice® – Legal Technology Institute Case, Matter, and Practice Management System Software Study” conducted by The University of Florida Law’s Legal Technology Institute, link unavailable at this writing).

What we failed to understand at the time was that the demands placed on young attorneys to perform require them to narrowly focus on the issues at hand. Most young attorneys enter the practice of law in subservient roles and are required to use whatever technology their firms use. Their goals are limited to getting the job done, and as they mature and move through the ranks, they remain focused on getting the job done, and not on how to do the job better.

This is not to say that lawyers will never embrace technology fully. It is to say that there are factors unique to the legal industry that impact buyer behavior. As sellers of legal products and services, we need to hone-in on the specific buying characteristics of this unique market of buyers and craft messages to address their needs and the drivers that most influence them.

 

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