Who is your client? The Law Dept? Or the company?

During the past 20 years, when lawyers could rely on a steady stream of work from in-house counsel, this answer was pretty easy.  If you had a relationship with a GC, you were set, and you protected it.  Now, though, the game has changed, and it’s time for lawyers to reconsider their loyalties.

I always read Joyce Smiley’s excellent newsletter, Verbatim: What Clients Say.  Today’s edition, “In-House Counsel Say It’s About Relationships,” features quotes from GCs citing specific lawyers’ relationship-building behaviors.

IMO, one lawyer cited has taken GC-loyalty too far.  The GC says that “it’s not uncommon for outside counsel to curry favor with management, but [lawyer] never breaks rank. ‘Law firms aren’t always that way with in-house counsel.’”

Personally, I’d describe communicating solely with the Law Dept. as myopic. Doing so subjects outside counsel to some very real risks and constraints, such as being:

  • trapped in the past, largely ignorant of emerging issues, 
  • aligned with those who must follow the rules instead of those who make the rules,
  • aligned with a cost center instead of a profit center,
  • feeding solely from the legal budget instead of operating budgets, which are much, much larger, and
  • vulnerable to a change of GC.

In-house counsel are employees of the company.  The company pays your fees.  You represent the company.  Your job is to help the company achieve its  

  • strategic aims, 
  • operational goals, and
  • financial objectives.

Once you’ve done all that to the degree that you’re able and permitted, you’ll naturally want to help employees succeed professionally.  That’s where “watching someone’s back” comes in.

This cuts both ways.  In-house counsel who prohibit or discourage outside counsel contact with operating executives are short-sighted, too. 

One of the client teams we guided faced just this type of choke-hold, i.e., they were only allowed to speak with in-house counsel.  They earned their way out of this constraint by initiating discussions about high-impact emerging industry issues too new for the Law Dept. to be knowledgeable about.  In-house counsel, uncomfortable with their potential blind spot, recognized that their self-interest was best served by including relevant operating executives in the discussion.  This produced three winners:

  • Operating executives could engage their inside/outside lawyers on the most important topics, avoiding minefields
  • In-house counsel’s status was raised with operating executives, who saw them as more relevant to the issues that counted most
  • Outside counsel earned access to operating executives, reinforcing their intelligence-gathering-and-sharing capability

The Law Dept. is not the company.  It is one functional unit, no more.  Limiting your relationship-building to them is as narrow and short-sighted as would be focusing solely on any other single entity, e.g., Finance, or Engineering.  Your job is to help the business succeed.

Mike O'Horo

RainmakerVT subscribers:  Four topics will help you succeed at this:

1. Getting Found: For What Do You Want to Be Known: “Door-Opener”: Associating Yourself with Issues That Drive Demand

2. Getting Chosen: Decision Process: Learning the Company-Specific Flavor of Your Door-Opener

3. Toolbox: Contacts and Referrals: Gaining Access to Decision-Makers

4. Finding a Point of Entry: Identifying Less Obvious Stakeholders in Your Door-Opener

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"Professional" does not mean "successful"

“Professional” means only that you get paid to do whatever it is you do.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re good at it.   

The 650th-ranked pro tennis player, paying for his own travel, instruction and equipment, is a professional.  If he’s drawn even one paycheck as a tennis player, he’s a professional, even though he may be starving.

The degree to which you can survive or thrive in any professional competition has to do with how good you are relative to competitors.  As competition improves, our #650 either gets better or he gets defeated repeatedly until he can no longer afford to remain a tennis player.  

In team sports, you either get better or you get replaced by a better player.  Did you know that the average NFL career lasts only 3.3 years?  Every year, on average, 16 of 53 players on each team’s roster lose their jobs to someone faster, stronger, more skilled, or less expensive.

All markets are Darwinian.  Business development truly means survival of the fittest.

If you’re a solo, as competition improves, you get better or you lose until you can’t afford to continue.  If you’re in a firm, you get better or you get replaced by a lawyer who brings in more business.

In either case, the difference between “successful” and “merely professional” is within your control.  

Marketing, Selling and other business development skills are not that complex.  (In fact, for 20 years we demonstrated that all you need are your “lawyering” skills.)  Then, again, neither is hitting a tennis ball.  But doing either at the professional level requires instruction, coaching and practice.

In any market, as demand declines, survival-driven competition intensifies.  If your weekly plan doesn’t include business development practice time, it’s going to get very tough for you.

Oh, and “practice time” is separate from “game time.”  Most lawyers only get 2-3 real business development opportunities (“games”) per month.  So, even if it was OK to practice during a real game, it’s simply not enough time for you to be any good.

Mike O'Horo

The Basics of Getting Your Law Firm Out There

The end-point of any marketing is to attract and convert new clients.  The intermediary goal is to put your law firm in front of potential clients so that they can become actual clients.  Here are a few tips to get your law firm started.

Establish a Consistent Message

You’ll eventually find a number of ways to put your law firm’s name and expertise in front of potential clients.  Whether you’ve started already or not, one thing that needs to occur is that your law firm needs to decide on and establish a consistent message and image.  

The reason that a consistent message is so crucial is because potential clients need to know exactly what your firm does and exactly what your firm is great at.  Clients don’t typically want to hire a general law firm that does everything.  They would much prefer a firm that specializes in the type of legal assistance that they need.  You probably wouldn’t hire a criminal defense firm for immigration help, after all.

If your law firm is serious about establishing a consistent message, then the first thing to do is to sit down and decide on exactly what type of client you’re going to target.  Once you’ve figured that out in great detail, then you can start crafting an image based on the type of law firm that your potential client would be looking for.  After that…

Figure Out Where Your Target Clients Hang Out

This should be read literally but even more so figuratively.  You need to know where your clients spend time, in person, online, and otherwise.  Once you know this, then you’ll be able to place your finely-crafted message and image in front of your potential clients.

Putting your message in front of potential clients then becomes a matter of being where they are.  If they attend certain industry events, then you need to be there also.  Law firms, as opposed to some businesses, need to be put in front of potential clients several times in order to convert them into actual clients, so don’t be discouraged if the first attempt doesn’t work.

Testing is key to your Law Firm Marketing

There is no single secret to making your marketing efforts successful.  However, being consistent and testing results are necessary ingredients for any successful campaign.  Your firm must be consistent in its marketing efforts over time, but it must also be willing to look at the results of any advertising and marketing campaigns and accept the results.  If the results are not what you were looking or hoping for, then you need the agility to alter and improve your marketing.

Marketing is not something that you can read about and then go out and immediately do well.  You can certainly start out better by having a certain knowledge of marketing, but in the end, it is trial and error that will ensure that your marketing is successful long-term.

Running a law firm can be both very rewarding and very lucrative, but it requires that you fully engage in certain aspects of the business that many lawyers either disregard or take for granted.  If you want your firm to be all that it can be, then you need to focus on your marketing.  It will ultimately serve as a bottleneck for all other aspects of your firm’s success.