Sales attorneys in the offing

Where there’s smoke, they say there is usually fire.  When people begin to talk about "sales attorneys," attorneys whose function is to sell the services of the law firm rather than perform legal work, the closer to reality that position will become.

Recently, a San Diego law firm placed an ad in the local legal publication and on their web site seeking a licensed attorney to perform business development and sales activities for the firm. Whether this is a trend remains to be seen. But, it is clear that more law firms are taking the marketing and selling function more seriously.

Do clients want to "buy" legal services from the lawyers who will do the work? Is this a one on one relationship? Or is the law firm the provider rather than an individual lawyer. There is much debate on this issue. For example, does the client hire Latham & Watkins or John Jones of Latham & Watkins?

Years ago, when I was a General Counsel, our company engaged a major law firm. That law firm always engaged me with three lawyers, a senior partner, a junior partner and an associate. The thinking behind this policy was to assure that our company remained with the law firm even if any one of the three firm lawyers left the firm. In other words, our loyalty was not to one lawyer, but to the group and to the law firm. I thought this approach was very astute, though not practical in today’s economics.

If the selling function gains serious traction in the profession, and the "selling lawyer" promotes the law firm, even if a lawyer with special skills is mentioned, I suspect that it will be the law firm as an institution that will be seen as the significant "legal party" in the attorney-client relationship.

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