Tales from the Front: Getting Business from Corporate Clients

"The hourly fee is going away, because clients are demanding fixed fees," said Ron Barger, VP and General Counsel for Archon Group, LP, speaking at the Legal Sales and Service Organization conference taking place now in Dallas. He and two other general counsel addressed law firm business development from the client's perspective. "Lawyers are in for a change," he continued.  "In 15 years will see a radically different law firm billing structure."

Barger recommended that law firms develop ways to capture their costs so that they are able to write budgets for corporate clients.

Jerry G. Bradford, Associate General Counsel at Alcon Laboratories, Inc., routinely asks law firms for budgets.  He finds, however, that law firms propose outrageous budgets or are unable to produce a budget.  "My mind boggles at how few lawyers call me up to say, 'I'm having difficulty with the budget process, could you talk me through what you are looking for so I can give you what you want?"  He added, "Picking up the phone is the simple way to figure things out." 

Barger related the best experience he had seeking a law firm: "We interviewed 77 law firms after circulating an RFP.  One law firm had a presentation ready based on the fact that they worked on the DuPont Model.  They took the time to think about how they could serve us.  The best sales calls are when a lawyer shows how they'll serve a specific need of my company."

"The worst case was when I got a call from a law firm partner, who requested to get on the "short" list after our RFP process.  Their proposal had been submitted late and it didn't respond well to the RFP.  I told him we had paid his firm $4 million in fees, and this was the first time he called had called me.  That was the worst."

I had a lawyer call me to solicit business a few weeks ago," said Kimberly Elting, VP and General Counsel of Advanced Neuromodulation Systems Inc.  "Three minutes into the conversation he asked me, 'what is it exactly that your company does?'"  She recommended that law firms "get their heads out of legal publications and read trade magazines and the Wall Street Journal, so they can learn about my business before they call me."

Barger added, "Train your lawyers to use news aggregators and subscribe to the RSS feeds of clients.  Clients like it when you've read an article about us, or can send us an article about the industry.  Teach your lawyers how to use it."

"I'm looking to replace a couple of our "B"-level firms," Elting said.  "What makes an "A" lawyer is somebody like the one who brought in a history of our products liability cases, showed me what the trend was, taught me use a tool to find this information and told me what our sales force should focus on."

"In contrast, another firm, which I've already replaced, made it clear that their allegiance was to the general counsel of our parent firm.  We have different needs and priorities of the parent company.  He made it clear that he wouldn't respond to our interests."

"Return our phone calls in a reasonable amount to time, and be responsive.  There are a lot of lawyers who don't, it's amazing to me that they are not responsive," Elting said.

"An "A" lawyer is not constantly reinventing the wheel. They know all the players and everything about our business.  There is also the trust factor -- they know enough about me and our CEO and that we have a certain way of doing things," Bradford said.

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