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eLawyers Learn Business Development via Virtual Training

Guest blogger Mike O’Horo writes how some of the same benefits of Internet technology that make virtual law practices attractive — affordability, scalability, and convenience — enable a new model of business development training for lawyers: virtual sales simulation.

Amid pervasive technological innovation in the legal space, business development training remains the profession’s orphan stepchild. Is this due to lawyer disinterest or an absence of appropriate innovation? Much is being written about “e-lawyering.” While the legal industry is not adopting Internet technologies on the scale or pace of many other sectors, recent trends are encouraging.

Two decades ago companies in the demonstrative-evidence and litigation support industry pioneered the use of technology to improve litigators’ work product and reduce the cost of telling a compelling story to a jury. Technology transformed discovery, allowing firms to manage document or data intensive cases faster and cheaper.

Internet-based technology now frees firms from owning operating infrastructure. SaaS-based accounting, project management, HR, CRM and other functions are like utilities. There are SaaS companies that will set up an entire law practice infrastructure, letting attorneys hang out a shingle with no investment other than a monthly subscription fee for their practice-support tools. In all areas, the old way of “lawyering” is giving way to newer electronic methods.

One function, however, is conspicuously absent from this rapid technological progress: training. Specifically, business development (BD) training.

Part of that is due to firms not being all that serious about BD training in any form. Part, though, stems from three structural limitations inherent to instructor-led training and coaching:

  1. Scalability: No matter how skilled and effective the trainer, he or she is limited in the number of lawyers he or she can train in a reasonable time. For twenty years as a one-to-one sales coach for senior lawyers I heard the refrain, “Mike, you’re producing terrific results, but we’ve got 500 (or 1,000, etc.) lawyers. You can’t coach them all.” Likewise, for a 600,000-lawyer population (U.S., private practice), there’s a shortage of skilled sales coaches, whether internal or external. Talk to law firm BD trainers; they’ll tell you that their training/coaching bandwidth is a fraction of internal demand. Budget cuts have further shrunk such capacity.
  2. Cost: Skilled sales coaches, like skilled lawyers, command significant fees. My clients loved our ROI, but when they calculated the investment required to train hundreds of lawyers, it was a deal-killer. Even though they would ultimately make lots of money from their lawyers’ new capabilities, there was a psychological barrier to writing a check that big.
  3. Lawyer Availability: With synchronous training (i.e., the trainer is present in real-time either in person or by phone or video) too often the lawyers and coaches aren’t both available — particularly associates.

Skill development requires education, training (the actual doing), coaching and feedback. It doesn’t happen in one session, but happens through iterative applications over time — for which instructor-led training is ill suited.

Yet lawyers remain subject to these limitations despite that virtual training has not only been available for decades, but is the standard in many industries, most visibly aviation, where every pilot you fly with learned on a flight simulator. Simulations and other virtual training eliminate all three of these limitations.

Virtual training via simulation allows lawyers to learn whenever they’re available, in short, single-topic sessions that measure effectiveness. With unlimited access, they can train as often as they need or want.

Coaching availability is infinite, too. Even if somehow the world had only one skilled trainer/coach, the virtual version of him or her is completely scalable, which means available to everyone, everywhere, all the time.

Scalability means doing the same thing for a fraction of its previous cost. With virtual training, firms can afford to train all their lawyers. Think of the advantages recruiting laterals or retaining associates; both groups know that their future depends on their ability to generate business.

What does “affordable” mean? Top-tier individual training/coaching programs can cost more than $7500 per lawyer. By contrast, the cost of a simulator-based virtual business development training program is roughly equivalent to coffee money.

Lawyers’ current struggles are the product of the decades-long effect of law maturing as a market category — not merely macroeconomic dislocation. In previous such occurrences, such as in telephony, IT, banking, and accounting, the winners were those who recognized that the only reliable differentiator is one’s ability to market and sell. Fortunately, today’s tools for doing that are easier, faster, cheaper and universally available.

Full Disclosure: Mike O’Horo is co-founder of RainmakerVT, the world’s first “sales-experience simulator for lawyers.” Think “flight simulator for sales.” RainmakerVT is about to launch, but would welcome test-drives and candid feedback by those passionate about business development. If you’d like to take it for a spin, let Mike know:

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