There’s no doubt that winning new business for law firms is getting tougher. The brutal truth is that there’s little differentiation between firms or so it seems on the surface. At the same time, the role of the General Counsel (GC) has changed vastly – aside from providing the business with legal advice, today they are also playing a substantial role in driving business strategy and reducing risk – all in the face of tight budgets. The pressure is on and hence GCs are looking for more than legal expertise and quality of advice. These both are a given. They are looking for business acumen and the intangibles too – like an appreciation of their challenges, support and such.
So how can law firms make the intangibles ‘tangible’? To win and retain business, firms will do well to bear in mind the following:
- Don’t wait for the invitation – Panel reviews now take place much more frequently than they used to. These are business opportunities – don’t wait for the invitation to pitch. Be proactive in finding out when a GC may be looking to review the legal panel and actively put yourself forward. It requires relationship building, but ‘with a purpose’: offering to run tailored knowhow sessions is always a good way in. Don’t tip toe around the issue, it’s ok to reveal your intention for the relationship. US firms are much better at doing this compared to traditional city firms in the UK.
- Demonstrate commerciality – GCs are looking for legal expertise in a commercial context. Demonstrate business nous. If you’re putting forward pricing for a matter, illustrate the thinking behind it – one that goes deeper than a traditional hourly rate based estimation. Some firms have skilfully developed their own pricing tools to help them accurately estimate matter fees. Such initiatives provide credibility, giving GCs confidence that there’s a business rationale supporting the firm’s pricing. For firms too, such tools are beneficial – it should inform staffing and case management decisions - in any event, fixed pricing is increasingly becoming commonplace.
- Take a client-centric approach – Understand GCs’ goals and support them to achieve those objectives. The essence of the sentiment is: feel their pain and help alleviate it. Think about how you’ll help the GC demonstrate to her/his organisation that she/he has proper oversight of the transaction or matter that you are working on. This requires viewing things from the GC’s perspective. I recollect many instances where the law firm ‘met’ it’s deadline (technically!) of sending a document on the designated day, but well outside office hours – which meant that I worked late into the night to present to the company the next morning. Simple things like timeliness, presenting documents in the right format and such can make the difference. Also, take time to understand the internal governance process: if the matter is one requiring board approval, what are the board paper deadlines? What matters is the board particularly sensitive about?
- Take away the co-ordination challenge – Large and complex multijurisdictional matters are hugely time consuming given the level of collaboration and coordination that is required. Be up-front about what you realistically can and can’t offer in this regard. Firms that take (and are able properly to discharge!) responsibility for driving coordination among teams position themselves well for winning the business. Articulate any assumptions that you are making, and if appropriate, demonstrate that you have the right technology to streamline work across geographies; and project manage matters so that matters are carried out seamlessly, efficiently and within budget.
Fundamentally, firms that display an appreciation of the challenges legal departments face and put forward corresponding solutions at pitch stage are likely to become a compelling proposition to GCs. Put yourself in the GCs’ shoes (what pressures do they face?), think about the level of support that might be needed and then incorporate those elements into your offering.