The quest to not only retain clients, but to acquire new work, can be daunting. It has been well documented that the legal pie, from a relative perspective, is shrinking. The recent recession caused many companies to rethink their legal spending strategy. For example, some litigation that normally would have been fought through trial/appeal has more frequently been settled early or not even filed. Some deal work that typically would have been sent to outside counsel was kept in house or may not have even been pursued if it was deemed too costly. These are but two examples of changes that may be harbingers of longer-term trends that are likely to have major impacts on law firms.
The battles, then, among law firms for work have thus taken on increased importance. As a result, many firms now have their own business development staffs, and lawyers often are given training in the art of pursuing work and developing client relationships, which are positive steps. Although many articles, books and programs have been devoted to business development -- many of which are quite useful -- this article aims to cut through all that material and will focus on five key tips to help increase your odds of landing that business that your firm is pursuing.
1. How to effectively deal with RFPs.
The use of RFPs (requests for proposal) by in-house counsel has been on the rise in recent years. From the in-house counsel's perspective, the use of carefully crafted questions can considerably streamline the requisition process, helps to put firms on equal footing, and normally enables one to make a more informed decision.
While law firms that are invited to participate are happy to be in the chase, most have learned that RFPs have downsides, as they can be an incredible drain of time and resources, and quite often, despite how qualified a firm may be, do not result in the firm securing the engagement. So, what is a firm to do?
It is important, initially, to be selective in determining which RFPs merit a response. If a sober evaluation of the situation reveals that the odds are very long that the firm has a realistic chance to be hired, and a formidable amount of work awaits in responding to a 50-plus-page RFP, with 75 subparts, it may be prudent to pass. This is especially the case if the response process pulls key lawyers and staff away from revenue-producing activities and other business development options with higher odds of success.
If the firm elects to respond, it needs to go "all in," as a half-hearted effort will not only prove to be a waste of time, but will likely cheapen your brand. The more responsive, and particularized, the answers that you can provide, the better. Attempts to cut and paste general answers from other RFPs that are not precisely on-point or to otherwise provide canned responses are unlikely to be well-received.
It is helpful to attempt to put yourself in the position of the in-house lawyer or other professional who will be reviewing your responses. In so doing, think about what would grab your attention and would enable the reader to truly differentiate your firm from other competitors. If you keep that goal in mind while you are preparing your responses, it should be beneficial.
2. Make a "value-plus" pitch.
If you are invited to make a pitch, it is time to seize the moment. I have some specific tips for the presentation, which are enumerated below. At a macro level, though, the key objective, in thinking about how to prepare your pitch, is to do much more than show up to reflexively recite your marketing spiel about how wonderful your firm surely is. As a former general counsel, I sat through many such meetings in which outstanding firms waxed on (and on) about how great they were (which I didn't doubt). As there are so many excellent firms and terrific lawyers around the globe, I never found that strategy to be compelling, especially since it didn't differentiate the firms and lawyers.