It amazes me that so many law firm websites say the same thing. Like we “are client focused”, “care about our clients”, “efficient”, “responsive”, “client’s interest comes first”, etc., etc.  Your firm may actually do and emphasize all these attributes. Problem is, how will prospects know that before hiring you.

One way is to truly differentiate your firm from others when pitching a prospect or client for work. Sally Schmidt in a post this week on Attorney at Work has suggestions on how to do that; including:

Offer more than promises:

  • If you claim a team approach, include a group picture and bios;
  • Demonstrate your experience on a matter by laying out the strategy and process (consider a Gantt chart or spreadsheet);
  • Provide an organizational chart with each person’s role and contact information; and
  • If you offer an alternative fee arrangement, indicate how you arrived at the figure to show it didn’t come out of thin air.

Give a service guarantee:

  • Lawyers cannot ethically guarantee the outcome of a matter, so provide a service guarantee.  It might include returning calls and emails within a specified period of time (as I have preached in the past, empowered other lawyers or staff to respond to inquiries, if for no other purpose than to let the client know when you will get back to them); when and how you will provide status reports (ask the client for their preferences); and communications in general; and
  • Offer to visit the client (off the clock) to better understand their business issues (a big client complaint about outside law firms), plans and how the issue relates to the business.

Back up your claims:

  • If you claim a particular expertise, back up the claims with the types and number of matters handled.
  • List representative matters handled, without naming clients without their permission even if it is a matter of public record; and
  • Provide a list of references happy with your services.

Your behavior matters, not your words:

  • If you say you are accessible, mean it by giving out your direct dial and cell numbers;
  • Send a welcome letter that sets forth how the process will proceed, who will handle their matter, and how to reach members of the team; and
  • Show how responsive you are likely to be by getting the proposal to them ahead of the deadline.

If you want to show that your firm is really different from the competition, prove it from your very first contact.

In several posts over the last couple of months (see Continue Reading below for four of them), I have mentioned that now is the perfect time for smaller firms to approach in-house counsel at larger corporations for business. Some of those reasons include:

  • Rates are more reasonable;
  • In-house lawyers are more cost conscious;
  • More flexibility when it comes to alternative fees;
  • Greater value from partners vs. inexperienced associates in larger firms;
  • Fewer conflicts of interest problems; and
  • Some BigLaw partners are moving to smaller firms.

Okay, you may say, so what are the do’s and don’ts in pitching corporate counsel? Here are a few things to keep in mind in approaching potential clients, according to Frank M. D’Amore, the founder of Attorney Career Catalysts, in an article that appears on Law.com’s Small Firm Business. You should:

  1. Differentiate yourself in a “significant way."
  2. Do not oversell your lawyers’ capabilities (in-house counsel can tell a lot by what is said and not said in a lawyer’s bio);
  3. Do not oversell your firm’s capabilities (In-house counsel are not fooled by inflated claims about particular expertise on a law firm’s web site);
  4. Do ask the prospect, what specifically they are looking for in order that your proposal will be specific (and avoid seeking work when it is beyond the scope of your firm’s core capabilities. The reason is pretty simple really. When given another opportunity to pitch the company for work where your firm is strong, your prior honesty will greatly enhance your chances of winning that work); and
  5. Finally, don’t overpower the potential client by sending too many lawyers, or sending the wrong lawyers; e.g., a lawyer for diversity purposes when they will have no role to play in the matter or a senior corporate lawyer for the “grey hair” affect for a litigation matter.

D’Amore points out that in-house lawyers are pretty savvy and have been pitched by many law firms. So, be specific and truthful as to the true capabilities and value your firm brings to the table.

Continue Reading Some Thoughts About Pitching In-house Counsel for Business

In a recent post I talked about following up whether you win or lose an opportunity for new work. The idea being to learn how to improve and do even better at winning the next time. 

Following my post I heard from Ford Harding who sent me a copy of his book Rainmaking: Attract New Clients No Matter What Your Field, 2nd Edition. The book includes a chapter “When You Lose a Sale,” which includes the following suggestions in seeking feedback:

  • Encourage stark honesty, like a Dutch uncle;
  • Try to set a separate meeting or at least phone call for the debriefing (not as part of the bad news call);
  • Make sure you don’t come across as threatening or angry;
  • Compile your questions in advance;
  • Three general questions you should definitely ask:
    • “Why did you select the other firm?
    • “What did they do especially well during the sales process?
    • “Where could we have been better?”;
  • Don’t be disagreeable or argue with anything you hear;
  • Keep notes on what is said;
  • Debrief as many people as is reasonably appropriate; and
  • Send a personal (handwritten) thank you note.

Following this advice will more than likely improve your chances of winning the next time.

You can learn a lot either way. Thanks to Barbara Walters Price at Marketing U, I remembered a very important lesson I learned about business development competitions. Whether you win or lose, it is wise to conduct a post mortem to determine why. Barbara’s post led me to a post by Ford Harding on preparing for a sales presentation.  Stay with me now. 

Ford’s point was that it is “insane” to spend a lot of time working on a “leave-behind” rather than focusing on who will say what at the presentation itself.  He considers the leave-behind a waste of time. I would agree, but how he arrived at that conclusion leads me to my point.

He conducted a series of post mortems (learning that potential clients didn’t even remember what was left behind). It reminded me of how important follow up after a competition really is. Not only when you lose, but when you win as well. The latter because you may get a false idea of why you were successful. (I remember a time I found out that the competitor had done a better proposal, but sent the wrong person to the oral presentation. So, we won, but not because of our proposal. Learned a valuable lesson on that one.)   

Of course, the main reason for a post mortem is to learn what the competition did right and what your firm could do better in the future, no matter the outcome.