How lawyers can win more work from better clients: In conversation with Scott Simmons 

In this conversation, Scott Simmons – ex-lawyer and now business development coach for lawyers – shares his insights and knowledge to help you become a rainmaker in your firm.  

Scott Simmons, co-founder and co-owner of Legal Balance – which provides training, coaching, and consultancy to law firms to improve their business development efforts – joined me in episode six of our Empowering Law Firm Leaders series.

In this conversation, we discuss how lawyers and law firms can win more work from better clients, gain confidence when communicating value, and charge more per case.   

In this conversation we cover:

  • Why firms need to focus on ‘better’ clients and how to win them 
  • Advice to improving confidence when selling 
  • How to instil a culture of business development across the firm  
  • Best practices for pricing to reduce write-offs 
  • How to close more deals  

Watch the interview with Scott Simmons:

Scott’s three lessons for running a successful modern law firm  

  1. You’re running a business  

Scott explains that as you move into a partnership or c-suite role, you stop doing the daily tasks you’ve been trained to do and move into responsibilities that weren’t taught at law school; “The first lesson is something we’re not taught and so we forget that we’re running a business, we just happened to be selling legal services.  

“You’ll have to do less of the work with clients and more of everything else that’s involved in running a business including building a team who do the work.”  

  1. You’ll need passion 

“If you’re passionate about what you do, it’ll see you through difficult times.” Scott believes that if you passionately believe in what you do, you’re more likely to take more calculated risks and have the confidence to put yourself out there – which can help you build resilience (and win more work). 

  1. Failure isn’t final 

Scott explains how lawyers are set up for perfection but advises that if you want to build a business you will make mistakes. “You’re going to make mistakes, but the key thing is to learn from them and find ways to improve processes.” Scott believes that when lawyers get out of the perfection mindset, you grow into a place of experimentation and continuous improvement.  

What does business development and sales look like in a law firm?  

“I think it’s important to caveat our conversation [about business development] that selling legal services isn’t like the Wolf of Wall Street.” Scott emphasises that selling legal services comes with a duty and responsibility to educate clients and highlight the consequences, “We’re helping, educating, and taking people on a journey that helps them get better results.” 

Scott shares his experience of working in a law firm that led him to realise the importance of the client experience and relationships in business development; “I was lucky to have a head of department and mentor who instilled the importance of customer service.” This led to Scott putting the client at the heart of all his decision-making and interactions, which helped build his reputation of being successful in winning clients and has shaped his approach for mentoring lawyers.  

Why do firms need to focus on ‘better’ clients and how to win them 

To deliver a quality client service that exceeds client expectations – which will win you more five-star reviews and recommendations – it’s important your firm’s and your clients’ values align. Scott emphasises the importance of choosing clients that align with the service and price you want to deliver. “We all have an idea of the way we want to provide the service we offer. For example, if you want to provide a first-rate concierge service, then there are only certain clients that will pay for it.”  

About Scott Simmons  

Scott is an ex-lawyer who practiced for 10 years across a variety of small high street and large firms. After suffering from burnout in 2012, Scott decided to leave the legal profession. 

During his time as lawyer, Scott built a reputation for being successful at winning new clients, which led to fellow lawyers asking for business development recommendations and advice. This is how Legal Balance started. Scott co-founded and co-owns Legal Balance where he teaches and coaches firms to use the methodology he was successful with when practicing. “I want to focus my time on coaching lawyers how to win more work because the industry is moving fast and the role of the lawyer has to adapt.” Legal Balance recently launched their BD Breakthrough course which is a step by step guide to becoming a rainmaker.  

“Technology and AI are going to change how we provide our services and it’s more important than ever that we can humanise the output from AI and become the trusted advisors to client again.”

So, it’s important to identify what type of law firm you want to be and the services you want to deliver and to gain a deeper understanding of the clients are that you want to serve. Business development stops being an uphill battle when you can successfully communicate – then deliver – on the service and value you’re clients expect and this is both the responsibility of the legal professional and the firm to build a strategy.  

“Your job is to then go find those clients”, to attract the clients that you’ve identified you want to target, Scott recommends having a solid value proposition. “In my BD Breakthrough course we talk about PRECISION selling, and the first ‘P’ stands for pitch.  

“Your value proposition should be a really clear statement about what you’re offering and how you offer it.” 

Scott explains that your people, processes, and technology are then set up to support you in delivering on your value proposition. “Set yourself up for success to avoid over-promising and under-delivering.” 

Advice for managing fear when selling as a lawyer 

Scott believes that anyone can be good at selling, “It’s just a skill that you learn and hone every single day.” But it requires hours of training and practice to hone the skill.  

Alongside training and practice, Scott advises that lawyers reframe the idea of selling to clients to consulting them, which helps overcome the fear. Scott shares, “Go into every meeting by simply wanting to help the person. 

“An introductory call or meeting is simply getting to know the client better, so you can help them and show them an idea of what their future may look like.” Scott highlights how people underestimate the importance of curiosity in a sales call or meeting because asking the right questions and being curious of your clients’ needs and challenges is the first and best way to win their trust and demonstrate the value you can provide.  

Scott believes that when you’re not curious about your client, it likely leads to poor scoping, which ultimately leads to unsatisfied clients and awkward conversations. “Often, we have brief scoping conversations, which lead to misunderstood outcomes, that could have been avoided if we’d asked the right questions at the outset.” 

How to instil a culture of business development at your law firm 

For legal professionals to successfully win more work from better clients, it’s important that culture in your firm empowers employees, supports experimentation and has aligned values. Scott believes that “empowering your team members is so fundamental [to a successful business development culture] because if you want people to learn something new, they’ve got to do it from a place where they feel safe to make mistakes. People need to know they will get things wrong and that’s ok.” 

However, Scott highlights that alongside providing training and space to make mistakes, having a firm-wide business development strategy is key to instilling a high-performing culture. It’s the firm’s responsibility first and foremost to create guidelines for who the ideal client is and how we’ll attract them.  

Best practices for successfully pricing and scoping legal services to win more work  

Scott begins by stating that he hates the billable hour, “I think it’s detrimental to the legal profession. It was first implemented as a productivity tool, but now it’s become an entire business model.” 

The problem with the billable hour, Scott explains, is that on average, firms discount and write off between 15 and 20% of their time. And often, that’s because the initial scope wasn’t thorough enough: “The scoping conversation shouldn’t just be about scoping the work but understanding the client and their expectations to achieve the best outcome. However complicated or however long the scoping conversation takes, I guarantee you’ll have written off more time at the end if you didn’t scope it thoroughly.”  

To successfully win more work, Scott highlights three rules you need to live by: 

  • Deliver on your promises 
  • Be curious: ask the right questions 
  • Set expectations 

“Our job is to empower clients with legal knowledge.” Scott believes we shouldn’t gatekeep our knowledge if we’re truly client-led, but we have to set expectations about what the service involves and exactly what they’re paying for.  

Win more work with better clients by being curious and avoiding perfection  

Improving the profitability of your law firm is rooted in winning the right clients who align with your values. This means that the service you deliver best utilises the people, processes, and technology you have in place. Winning the right clients often means you can charge more per case because the value and service you provide aligns perfectly with their expectations.  

To win more work with the right clients you need a team of legal professionals who are empowered to be curious about their clients, to ask the right question, and to offer the best service at the right price. Empowered employees require a supportive culture that encourages training, and experimentation, and acknowledges that perfection doesn’t exist.   

Watch the full interview with Scott Simmons now to discover more advice and guidance on winning more work with better clients. You’ll also hear Scott’s exclusive advice on how to close more deals at your firm and his one question he recommends everyone uses to progress a deal.