YourABA: October 2012
YourABA October 2012 Masthead

Yes, small firms can snag big clients

As a small firm, never count yourself out from winning big business, says Kathleen Balthrop Havener, who practices with her husband, Thomas, at Havener Law Firm in Cleveland. She left a large firm to start her own practice in 2008.

Havener, in an issue of GPSolo, offers some ways for small firms to land big clients.

For one, take advantage of clients’ diversity initiatives. As companies increase their awareness of diversity issues, they are more committed to having a diverse team of lawyers represent them. “A minority- or woman-owned law firm should let it be known that it is happy to partner with larger firms whose diversity profile might not be as attractive as they would like, in order to satisfy the client’s ‘diverse team’ demands in a more immediate way,” Havener says.

Begin by becoming certified as a woman- or minority-owned firm, she says. Then, “tell everyone you know in large firms and corporate law departments you’d like to be on their list of candidates for the small-firm piece of their team.”

Nourish your relationships, particularly with past clients. “You never know when someone you know who’s a thousand times more prestigious and well placed than you are will need your help,” Havener says, citing an example. “I got a telephone call one recent day from the general counsel of a large company for which I had done significant work at my former firm nearly a dozen years ago. Something had arisen in current litigation that related back to the arbitration I had worked on, and as it happened, I was the person with the institutional memory to tackle the discrete new task.

“That small connection earned me a spot on the approved counsel list … which I certainly hope leads to further work.”

Indeed, small firms can offer a lot when it comes to nurturing client relationships. They are skilled at showing appreciation, as the work of a large client may mean the difference between success and failure; at a large firm, it could be treated as just another case. “We can assure large clients that we are grateful for their trust and confidence and genuinely appreciate their work,” Havener says. “We can also assure the client that my partner and I will actually staff the matter. That makes us more attentive to the quality of everything we do.”

Pricing flexibility is another advantage that small firms can offer, Havener says. Big firms can bring with them big overhead, which is paid for by the fees these firms collect. Small firms, on the other hand, “have low overhead, their charge-out rates are significantly lower than large firms’, and they have lots of experience with fixed-fee billing for commodity work,” she says.

Small firms can use their better value offering to their advantage to lure work away from large firms, Havener says. Her firm’s strategy: Offer value pricing and make potential clients very happy. “I intend to market myself as every bit the same quality lawyer I ever was, but now I can make pricing arrangements on my own terms, and without jumping through the hoops of a management committee to do it.

“What I won’t do is sacrifice the quality of the representation my clients are paying for because they don’t want to pay for a larger number of hours.”

Access the complete article here.

GPSolo magazine is a publication of the ABA Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.

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