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Five Things

By Ann Lee Gibson, PhD

We're all familiar with the usual reasons law firms are given about why they weren't selected to represent a company: "You didn't have enough industry experience." Or "Another firm's fees were lower." Or "The winning firm had the right office locations."

Sometimes these explanations are true—but other times they're just socially acceptable ways to dodge telling the truth. More often than we might believe, small things that could have been avoided keep us from winning business that we badly wanted.

Here are five not-so-uncommon reasons that clients have reported in debriefs to third parties about why they didn't choose a particular law firm to represent them.

  1. The lawyers didn't seem to want the business and weren't very enthusiastic when talking about it. "The winning firm's team seemed much more interested in winning this work, and they told us this is exactly the kind of engagement they relish."

  2. The prospective clients didn't feel comfortable because the lawyers' personal style was different from theirs. "They wore suits and ties and seemed very formal, but that's not our style at all."

  3. The lawyers ignored the prospects' likes and dislikes about small things, which was taken as a proxy for how the firm would regard the client's preferences about big things. "We told them we prefer Dr. Pepper, but they kept serving us Coke!"

  4. The lawyers didn't recognize the company's key decision maker, which didn't bode well for their ability to understand other things. "I was insulted [said a woman general counsel] because they kept directing their answers to the men on our team, even though I'm the one who decides which firm gets hired."

  5. The lawyers didn't understand what the prospect wanted to hear from them during the interview. "They wasted 10 minutes setting up their PowerPoint presentation and then spent half an hour walking me through their standard dog-and-pony show. Frankly, I'd rather have spent all that time talking about our upcoming transaction and what's unusual about this deal."

The fact is that in every interview prospective clients are looking for firms and lawyers with whom they will be compatible and comfortable. But before you can present yourself as a compatible choice, you must learn something about the specific client's attributes and preferences. So do your homework and, whenever possible, show the prospective clients respect by mirroring their attributes and following their preferences.