Over the past decade, we have seen the demand for legal services significantly decrease, with more companies using fewer law firms. Yet, law firms still continue to grow. With more lawyers and fewer matters, this naturally has resulted in greater competition. Like all businesses, if law firms are to keep their doors open, they must be in a position to consistently make successful bids for new work.
In our work with lawyers from firms spanning all sizes and scopes of practice, my Jaffe colleagues and I have the opportunity to hear directly from clients about what they are looking for when pitched by a lawyer. (Yes, they use the term “pitch.”) While I have seen some of these tips remain consistent, some may come as a surprise.
Know My Industry and My Business
This is one we’ve heard before, but clients continue to say that the pitches made to them rarely are presented in the parameters specific not only to their industry, but to their specific businesses. For example, businesses in the same industry may have different regulations affecting them due to geography or size. Research the specifics of the prospective client’s business, and be prepared to describe how you can solve their specific problems.
In-house counsel tell us that, more than ever, they are bombarded with requests from lawyers to schedule meetings. These requests typically come in the form of “I’d like to tell you a little about myself/my firm.” Clients have this information and much more at their fingertips via the internet and social media. If you want their attention, describe your experience in handling specific issues the company faces.
Even in this situation, it is likely that the company has other lawyers already handling the same type of issues, so be prepared to discuss what makes you different (see below). The more specific you are in describing what it is you would like to discuss, the more likely you are to stand out among the many lawyers vying for a meeting.
Send the Experts
As I have written about before, clients want subject matter experts (SMEs). Law firms still tend to believe that clients want work pushed down to the associate with the lowest billable rate. However, clients are now saying they have this non-specialized or commodity work handled in-house and are turning to outside counsel for certain types of work. While SMEs bill at a higher rate, clients have realized that the overall cost of a matter typically is less because the SME does not have to do as much research or case review to be up to speed.
It follows, then, that when meeting with a prospective client, bring the actual knowledge and experience you are selling. Bring the SME! Even if you think they are too technical or perhaps not the most outgoing personality, they can answer the client’s questions. Be sure to tell the client that the SME will be attending, and if the SME has authored articles on the subject matter, consider sending those in advance of your meeting.
Accurate Budgets Should Not Be So Difficult
Hand in hand with alternatives to the billable hour, in-house counsel indicate they find it difficult to understand why lawyers cannot or will not provide accurate budgets. Any lawyer or team of lawyers with a history of successfully handling the types of matters being pitched to the client should have a good idea of the factors and the costs that will go into completing a similar project.
Lawyers have been guilty of viewing the services they provide as being different enough from other service providers that the client will accept any amount of time, and therefore money, it takes to complete the project. As one general counsel said, “That is like hiring a contractor to build a new home and saying, ‘Surprise me at the closing table with the price.’”
Differentiation Is Not Just a Marketing Buzzword
When we at Jaffe undertake branding projects for law firms, we insist on speaking with the firm’s clients. Our goal in these conversations is to understand why the client hired the firm and why they continue to use the firm. We are looking for information about what makes the firm different from its competitors.
Clients tell us they, too, are looking for differences among lawyers and law firms, but have difficulty identifying any. As one in-house counsel recently responded, “I’m afraid I can’t answer that question. Nothing stands out about the firm as being different from any other.” In today’s competitive environment, this should be a red flag to law firms. It is critical that lawyers and law firms not only be able to truthfully describe what makes them different/better than their competition, but also be able to demonstrate that differentiation. Before you tell a prospective client that exceptional service is a hallmark of your firm, make sure that your existing clients will echo that if contacted as a reference.