Law Firm Marketing Means Thinking Like General Counsel

Jeffrey Carr, in-house counsel, law firm marketing, LawMarketing BlogExcerpted from Law360: In-house lawyers and corporate counsel reveal that the best law firm marketing technique is to think like them, anticipate what they want, and show that your law firm cares.

Alternative Fees

A recent shift to a value-added climate demands flexibility in handling the different types of fee structures corporate counsel are now seeking, corporate counsel said. It's all about getting the best services for the best price. In other words: value, value, value. That and fee predictability and cost containment.”

Jeffrey W. Carr, senior vice president, general counsel and secretary at FMC Technologies Inc., suggested providing an actual proposal that makes it clear your fees are value- and performance-based.

“Offer to have the client hold back payment on a portion of fees and base any payment of the holdback contingent upon a result, a report card, or some other indicia of satisfaction and value in the eyes of the customer,” he said.

Carr also advised against throwing out the oft-used phrase “alternative fees,” saying it implies that something other than hourly rates are distasteful or an affront to the natural order of legal fees.

“And don’t offer to 'consider' alternative fees unless you are willing to embrace the concepts of budgets that matter as well as shared risk and reward,” he warned.

However, said Todd Young, a corporate and finance partner with Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, sometimes a simple show of genuine empathy ends up being enough.

For example, he said, even with the noise about alternative fee structures, he has found that not very many of his clients are actually demanding or implementing them. And it’s not because he hasn't mentioned the issue.

“You have to show a willingness to enter into discussions and engage with them,” he said. “There's a certain emotional component: they want to feel like you're not just going to throw a bill at them. If you have a rational conversation with them and show you're flexible and attendant, ultimately lots of times they will be okay with a more standard arrangement.”

Partnering With Other Firms

Robert Henderson, a legal consultant at RJH Consulting, said that because the trend today is for corporate counsel to limit the number of outside counsel they deal with, smaller firms are at a competitive disadvantage in winning the beauty contest with corporate counsel.

“My advice to firms that have a limited practice focus — for example, securities litigation or white collar criminal defense — would be to seek to collaborate with larger firms that don’t have expertise in their particular practice area,” he said. “In addition to their specialized expertise, boutique firms usually can offer more efficiency and lower cost due to their lower overhead.”

Process Management

Susan Hackett, senior vice president and general counsel of the Association of Corporate Counsel, said some law firms are focusing on how to deploy project and lean process management techniques are making a splash with clients.

“This means looking at breaking down common processes and decisions made during the relationship and rethinking each step: a form of disaggregating work and then examining the component parts for possible improvements based on efficiencies and cost savings,” she said.

Firms having this discussion, Hackett said, are seen as trying to think creatively about the best ways to improve the relationship and its value to the client — even if only a few are fully equipped to act on what they discover they could do better.

Lend a Lawyer

A sure way to get the attention of in-house counsel, according to Olson, is to go out of your way to offer resources.

“Some firms have offered to 'second,' i.e., lend, an attorney to a client for a period of time, which helps the client get work done and helps the firm and the attorney learn about the client,” he said. “It doesn't have to be free, but free is nice. And don't send a brand new person whom we have to train.”

Or, Olson advised, simply offer to fix a problem that may be plaguing in-house attorneys. Corporate law departments, he said, may have chronic problems, but no resources or people to fix them — and that's where you come in.

“It could simply be a file room in which no one can find anything anymore, or a batch of agreements that have never been logged into a database, or materials that should be organized as a training manual,” he said. “Send the client one of your higher performers to solve the problem in a few days, and they may assume that you can solve several of their legal problems too.”

Give In-House Counsel Some TLC

The brutal financial climate has bumped up everybody's stress level, making it all the more important to show in-house counsel that you really care. That doesn't mean faking sympathy, however.

“The path to 'relationship nirvana' is paved with something a bit softer than the hardball tactics of prior years,” she said. “Folks are finding a better relationship by sitting down and saying ‘this may be a great time for us to talk about what it is that matters – what it is that you value. Then let’s think creatively about how we can work together better to assure those results,’” Hackett said.

Carr noted that a good way to show corporate counsel you care is to stop thinking like a lawyer.

“Not every 'interesting legal question' needs to be answered,” he said. “The customer wants actionable, practical advice, not erudition. Start thinking like a business person. If you were the client, would you want this type of advice or service and would you pay this amount, on these terms?”

According to Miriam Frank, partner and vice president of the in-house practice group at Major Lindsey & Africa, the law firm partner who makes every client feel that he or she is their most important client will continue to get business.

“Show some sensitivity to the pressures faced by in-house counsel,” Frank said. “The outside counsel who understands the dynamics of operating inside of a business — from cost-containment to accountability –and does all that he or she can to be supportive and make the client look good will be remembered and valued.”

Young, too, emphasized the importance of empathizing with general counsel, saying lawyers need to show they understand the difficulties faced by corporate legal departments in this economic climate.

“You have to feel their pain, and give them practical solutions that show you're empathizing with them,” he said. “In-house counsel are no longer as comfortable with law firms raising their rates or staffing matters with a cast of thousands. It's not just about lowering or freezing rates, but thinking about how to become more cost-effective by changing your operating structure.”

For the full article visit

Trackbacks (0) Links to blogs that reference this article Trackback URL
Comments (1) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Jerome Kowalski - January 3, 2011 11:55 AM

As always, Larry, an excellent piece. Jeff Carr continues to be the super hero of the era. I also recently addressed some of the challenges that law firms are confronting in these challenging times and made some modest suggestions as to how these new challenges might be met:

Post A Comment / Question Use this form to add a comment to this entry.

Remember personal info?