Solo/Small Firm

Make The Ask!

How to close the deal with prospects

By Martha M. Newman

Lawyers who succumb to the fear of making The Ask let lucrative cases needlessly slip through their fingers—and into the hands of bolder competitors—because they do not know how to close deals and often dread rejection. To avoid sweaty palm moments that sabotage your business development, follow these steps to win more business this year.

Prerequisites to Asking.
Three conditions must exist before you can hope to land a client. The prospect must know you (optimally more than casually), like you, and trust you. Assuming you have an appealing personality and know how to establish rapport, the most challenging task is instilling trust in a prospect regarding your integrity and your expertise. How do you build trust during the pitch meeting without having received a referral from a mutual connection or having built a prior relationship with the prospect?Some of the many ways are by recounting success stories about cases similar to the prospect’s, speaking knowledgeably about the prospect’s business or industry, and sharing how you have assisted companies in their industries gain competitive advantages.

Prepare Before You Pitch.
Go to meetings prepared. Research the backgrounds of your prospects so you can find ways to connect during the pitch meetings and learn as much as possible about their business problems, prior litigation, outside interests, philanthropic activities, etc. You can obtain valuable information from a thorough web search, LinkedIn profiles, website bios, and by speaking with mutual acquaintances. Then rehearse your pitch with a trusted colleague to get tips on how to improve it. Consider videotaping yourself if you are brave enough!

Set Up The Ask. Run the Meeting by:

  • Asking informed questions to elicit facts and demonstrate your business knowledge.

  • Getting the prospect to describe the risks and consequences if the problem is not solved.

  • Actively listening, e.g.,“So, what you are saying is…”

  • Educating the prospect about potential solutions.

  • Telling stories of clients who benefited from hiring you for similar reasons.

  • Asking the prospect what the risks are of doing nothing.

If you have prepared extensively and run the meeting according to those guidelines, there is a high likelihood the prospect will hire you without your asking. If the prospect does not take the initiative, making The Ask is your final step.

Give Yourself a Chance to Succeed.
Do not fidget, tense up, or talk fast during the meeting. If you talk too much, interrupt, or brag, potential clients will conclude that you are more interested in hearing yourself talk and trying to “make the sale” than finding out about their needs. Above all, take your time setting up The Ask. Rushing prospects to hire you makes you look needy and convinces them you are more interested in getting their business than understanding their problems.

When you are uncomfortable being direct, try the gently presumptive approach: “If you’d like to move forward, what we’ll do next is…” or the straightforward close: “I’d welcome the opportunity to represent you. Are you ready to proceed?” All you need is one file to start: “We’d like to handle one file for you to demonstrate our value.” If the prospect seems unsure, stay top of mind by asking, “Can we analyze the issue for you and get back to you?” or “May we follow up with your associate to learn more about the problem?” In the event the prospect hedges: “What can we do to help you make a decision?”

Conquer Objections.
Anticipate what objections might arise and prepare your responses in advance. To dismantle objections, first suppress your disappointment and defensiveness. Do not argue. Wait for the prospects to finish objecting. Pause a few seconds. Validate their concerns. Ask clarifying questions and summarize their objections in a couple of sentences. Then diffuse the objections with responses you have already practiced.

If you want to build your book this year, you cannot afford to let timidity and procrastination hold you back. Move out of your own way and ask for the business you want. TBJ

MARTHA M. NEWMAN is a former oil and gas litigator and owner of Top Lawyer Coach. She has been awarded the Professional Certified Coach, or PCC, credential by the International Coach Federation in recognition of her coaching excellence. Newman specializes in lawyer coaching and consulting in the areas of law firm management, business development, leadership, time management, presentation skills, career advancement, and job interviewing. For more information, go to


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