3. Know How Competitors Are Trying to Get Business
Do not be afraid to ask how competitors are trying to win pitches and get business. Although video calls have leveled the playing field in ways, in-person pitch teams and business development trips are heavily male-dominated. Understand what other law firms are doing, and if it involves getting in front of potential clients in person, do the same. There is still a lot of value to sitting around a table in person. Understanding how your client approaches meetings is also important. Find out if your client’s team members are all back in the office, if they are flexible about remote work, or if certain functions are fully remote now. If everyone is back in the office, suggest an in-person meeting if you have not met the team in person yet.
4. Be Loud and Proud about Your Area of Expertise
When sourcing outside counsel, it is often necessary to find a specific area of expertise. Make sure you are showcasing your expertise through panels and industry engagement, as well as directly with in-house counsel. Recently, an outside counsel took time to learn a very specific issue that was relevant to the company where one of the authors is in-house counsel and produced a perfectly drafted legal memo on the issue free of charge. This memo has been circulated to the entire legal team and some members of executive team. Not only did this memo showcase depth of expertise on a narrow issue, but it also showed how invested the outside counsel was in learning the company’s business. That lawyer is now a household name with the in-house team.
5. Know Your Law Firm’s Capabilities
Take the time to understand all of the practice areas and industries your firm covers. Participate in your internal firm events that are designed to make you an expert on what your colleagues are doing and what the level of expertise is in each practice area. Many firms advertise having expertise across almost all practice areas, but the depth of experience varies widely. It is a good idea to do some diligence on the experience your practice groups have—your client will appreciate you being honest if you have to say, yes, we have employment lawyers in our office in France, but I’ve done some checking and the team there is new to us or not very experienced. At the same time, having an alternative option for your client to check into is a good idea. Do not be afraid to refer to a friend who is in a competitor firm if that is what is best for your client. Relationships matter across competitors, too. On the other hand, if your client has an issue or case in an area outside of your own, but you know your partner has that expertise, that’s a great resource for your client. Your client will be very happy to send your firm additional work (and different work) if you have the resources, are knowledgeable about them, and can make that introduction quickly.
If your firm circulates news flashes, newsletters, etc., on new laws, regulations, and court decisions, find out if your client would be interested in receiving these emails and in what areas, and then sign your client up at your firm. Some of your clients might get most of their legal updates from these law firm publications, so if your firm has a good system in place for these updates, your client will appreciate them and will become very familiar with the expertise of your firm in these areas. Further, if you know it is a top-of-mind issue that is being released, send it with a personal note to your client, which showcases that you understand your client’s immediate needs and are ready to support.
6. Get Smart about Your Clients’ Challenges and the Issues That Keep Your Client Up at Night
It is important to understand your client’s unique challenges. Not all clients in the same industry have the exact same challenges. Digging a little deeper into your client’s individual profile (even if this might be on the law firm’s own dollar) and understanding the issues that keep your client up at night will help your law firm become a long-term, strategic thought partner.
Similarly, it is extremely important to understand your client’s risk tolerance, especially when dealing with public companies rather than privately held companies. Most in-house attorneys are looking for law firms to provide business-friendly advice and realistic assessments of risk. Put yourself in the shoes of an in-house attorney who has to help his or her business achieve a goal or quickly come up with various alternatives to solve a problem and saying “no” is a last-resort answer. Finally, understand your client’s budget challenges. Providing alternative fee arrangements from time to time, including flat-fee quotes, can be extremely helpful.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Think Outside the Box When It Comes to Business Development
Business development is all about building your brand, and building a brand takes creative thinking, intentional execution, and patience. Be strategic and take time to develop a business plan with milestones and metrics to help you determine what is effective. In building this plan, have the long game in mind because it is common to see outside counsel show up for an immediate pitch when a billable opportunity emerges instead of showing up for a pitch that has been tied to relationships and a strategy cultivated over months and years. For example, tie your brand to trade associations and other industry groups that will help you network, keep apprised of industry needs, and create meaningful speaking and panel opportunities. In short, be more than a blog author and reactive pitch presenter. Showcase your ability to build relationships through an intentional business plan. If you have “writer’s block,” ask your in-house connection to help you write your plan and align it to client’s and industry’s needs and contacts.