Chuki Obiyo – Chuki Law
In 2008, on the precipice of the Great Recession, law schools could be pretty scary places to be.
Law firms were laying off associates; law students were piling up debt and facing dubious job prospects; and corporate legal departments were being stretched thin, affecting performance for attorneys just about everywhere.
For Chuki Obiyo, being a law student during the Great Recession made him painfully aware that his legal education was about to meet a widening gap in the job market.
And so, as a young lawyer, he also became a businessman, creating Chuki Law, whose singular focus is to help any lawyer become a better rainmaker by leveraging personal development, business development and management consulting tasks.
Lawyers are skeptical by nature, so Obiyo spends time educating them about the benefits of what he refers to as “non-billable branding.”
“We help lawyers put together biographical statements and follow-up plans that attract clients to re-engage in all types of business,” Obiyo says, “and we help them figure out where they have bottlenecks when it comes to engaging new business.”
Running up the score
Solvency aside, Chuki Law provides a vehicle for Obiyo to ply a passion that resides at the intersection of law, business and technology.
While a law student at Northwestern University School of Law, he had the opportunity to take “phenomenal” classes in negotiation, business formation and other areas that directed his attention to law in a business context. Between the second and third year of law school, he became more focused on business development.
“It really got me thinking,” he says. “Looking a little bit deeper into the Great Recession, partners at large law firms who built businesses with Fortune 500 companies as their clients were losing equity status at their law firms, being demoted or altogether let go. What was implicit in all that was a lack of business development discipline.”
After graduating with honors, Obiyo consulted with executives at Fortune 500 CEB-member companies to learn more about business development from the perspective of a law firm client.
“We set up organizational alignment surveys that explored key performance indicators, for example, how do you stack up against industry peers? How would your business partners rate you on a scale of 1-10? How would your client satisfaction scores change across different business units?”
Obiyo crafted his initial benchmarking system based on the acronym ARE: assessing the satisfaction of his client and client’s clients, researching best practices, then helping his client execute and contextualize their performance.
“When we see a 7 out of 10 satisfaction score, that’s good, especially if it works for you,” Obiyo says, “but if others are hitting 9s and you have that desire and drive, then can we execute to move you from a 7 to a 9?”
At its heart, the mission of Chuki Law is to help lawyers at all levels sell better.
“Not more,” Obiyo says, “but better.”
Justice takes a hit
In his interactions with law school professors and deans over the years, Obiyo had a simple question: What are law schools doing to help lawyers sell better?
“Were we getting technical skills? Yes. Able to apply logic? Yes. Review documents and contracts? Yes. But what are we really doing to be better—to be better able to add value to the client service experience?
“I was not getting an answer, and that’s still the reality,” Obiyo says. “Law schools don’t teach lawyers how to sell, and perhaps they are not and should not be designed to.”
By “sell,” Obiyo doesn’t mean taking out advertisements online. He means optimizing a practice to do informed business development, instill better goal-setting cultures, make sure the practice is optimally staffed and aiming toward the right outcomes and more. That includes assessments and training in personal development, business development, management consulting and sales personality grids.
“If these professionals are not enabled to sell better,” Obiyo says, “justice takes a hit. Protection of rights misses the mark. And progress stalls.”
For Obiyo, progress is a way of life. He spent part of his childhood in Avu, Owerri West, Nigeria, a village where people lived on less than $1 a day. His parents worked very hard to save up just enough money to move the family to the United States. Upon arrival, Obiyo’s mother passed a nursing certification exam which allowed her to become a registered nurse, sometimes working double shifts in order to provide for Obiyo and his siblings.
All in sales
“Parents sell their values to their children, and professionals sell their services to clients, so we are all in sales, and I really do believe that,” Obiyo says. “Some are actively, some passively, but they are still in sales. The sales personality assessment is meant to demystify the whole exercise of sales for people who probably do not have much formal training in it.”
He delivers those assessments to lawyers by starting a conversation about their clients, asking: “If you were your client, how would you go about buying your services? And why?”
Obiyo says he’s developed several archetypes in sales training for lawyers, one illustration is the “change agent rainmaker,” an attorney who leads with insight and challenges the thinking of clients; and the “lone ranger rainmaker” who’s into going it alone.
After a personal brand assessment, Obiyo helps lawyers draft and put together biographical statements and follow-up plans to attract and re-engage clients. After business development and sales coaching, he has lawyers positioned to cross-sell and upsell. And with a sales culture assessment, he helps them figure out where they have bottlenecks when it comes to engaging new clients.
In helping lawyers sell better, Obiyo has to do a little selling himself.
“Lawyers by nature are skeptical and rely on precedent thinking,” he says. “So engaging them in innovation can be a challenge. Many of my conversations are spent closing that gap of skepticism.”
He also tends to talk about the advantages that come from better sales thinking. Some are not monetary.
“The in-house legal department at many companies is often seen as ‘the department of no,’ so lawyers are challenged with being more strategic,” Obiyo says. “We help them build better relationships cross functionally.
“On the outside counsel side, equity partners and managing partners say, ‘We don’t have enough time to train the team to sell.’ So we take the best practices from the successful rainmakers and package that for the rising stars in a way that feels most authentic and implementable for them.”
Obiyo’s finding rewards that are also not monetary.
“When the lightbulb comes on for a seasoned attorney that is not tech-savvy, and he or she is able to acquire business from a LinkedIn follow-up with a contact, for example, that’s amazing,” he says.
Another win for Obiyo is being able to help minority lawyers—particularly female or African American—gain the confidence to build their brand.
At the highest level, it’s coaching, and Obiyo is less concerned with individual accolades than with inspiring a global network of rainmakers who sell so well, they become a winning part of their client’s success story.
“I’m not gonna fight for who gets MVP,” he says. “All of us are going to win championships!”
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