Friday, October 19, 2012

Got business?

One of the best things about being in house is the fact that you don't have to generate business.  I can only empathize with my firm colleagues on how stressful it is to have to be "salesman" on top of attorney.  That said, please stop hitting me up for business the first time we meet.  When the second thing out of your mouth (after, what company are you with) is what are your legal needs, I immediately turn off and will almost as quickly forget you.  If you truly want my business here's a few things you should know about how I, and many of my in house brethren, award business.

Small matters go to people we know and like.  Generally a specialist in the area.  I don't typically hire firms, I hire attorneys.  And usually, I'm hiring the associate who will do the actual work and not the partner who manages the account.  If you want to get the small matters that we don't do in house then you'll want to have your associates spend a little time networking with in house attorneys.  Giving CLE's is a good way to get some face time with in house folks and become somewhat connected with an area of expertise without having to oversell it.

If I don't know someone who specializes in the area I need, I ask my in house friends for references.  You'd be surprised at the information we share when it comes to representation.  Who does quality work efficiently, who over bills, who wastes time, who is pleasant to work with and who is a pain in the ass, etc.  Make a good impression and we'll go out of our way to promote you.  Make a bad impression and we'll go out of our way to warn others about you.  Make no impression and, well, you're on your own.

For big matters, those multi-million dollar lawsuits or bet the business transactions, I typically put it out to bid.  I won't lie, cost is a factor.  But value is a bigger factor.  Having the right expertise and the right "fit" for the matter and our company culture will give you bonus points and may outweigh a savings from a competitor firm.  If I like you, you'll be on my list of firms that I invite to bid.  But you won't be alone on the list.  This is business and I have a responsibility to my company to get the best value possible.  Know that we evaluate everything, from your initial response to your presentation.

You will most likely be competing with at least 10 other firms of varying size and focus.  I typically include boutiques as well as big and small general practice firms in a RFP. In the initial response you will need to put your best foot forward and explain why I need you and your firm instead of a more specialized group.  If you make the first cut, I'll invite you (and at least 2 of your competitors) to meet with the business stakeholders   In this phase, you've already sold me that you have the basic legal expertise needed.  Now I'm looking for the "fit" with the stakeholders and the right staffing.  Again, I generally will take a hard look at the associate you present because I know they'll be doing the lion's share of the work.

My business stakeholders are going to be comparing you in the most general terms to the other lawyers.  You're not going to sell them on how you know this specific area of law better than the other guys.  So don't try.  Sell them on how you can handle this particular matter better than the other guys.  Whether that's because you have experience with the judge, the opposing counsel, the subject matter, etc.  Give them something to differentiate you from the other guys.  Give them a taste of what they can expect if we hire you, some out of the box thinking on the matter at hand, something, anything.  If you come with a presentation about how great your firm is and how well you know about xyz law with the same basic formula that any lawyer with a bit of experience is going to pitch, you'll lose.  Go above and beyond, spend a little bit of time.  After all, you may not win this matter but if you make an impression you'll be remembered for the next, and I might even recommend you to a friend.

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