April 23, 2014
A few weeks ago, I attended the Legal Marketing Association Annual Conference. If I had to choose one word to describe the theme of the seminars I attended, that word would be “value.” Panels of partners, in-house counsels, chief marketing officers, vendors — they all talked in one way or another about building value.
At one seminar, Michael Rynowecer, founder of BTI Consulting Group, delivered results from the BTI Corporate Counsel Survey. In this survey, general counsels ranked their top goals for the year. “Delivering More Value” – defined loosely but unanimously as delivering value to clients and shareholders while receiving value from the hired firms — was the number one goal across general counsels surveyed. Other priorities, such as controlling legal cost, ensuring compliance and mitigating risk, have dropped in importance from 2013 to 2014, but delivering more value increased, with 41 percent of in-house counsels naming it their top priority. The survey further showed that superior firms are those that are client-focused and really understand the business of the client.
Rynowecer noted that Fortune 1,000 companies typically work with about 47 law firms. Two handle between 45 and 50 percent of the work. The other 45 slug it out for the remainder, with each getting a very small piece. In addition, 40 percent of general counsels recommend their primary law firm first. This statistic really hit home when I heard John Simpson of One North point out that 86 percent of general counsels cite referrals as the most trusted source when researching a law firm.
So, besides winning complex cases, how do you build value and become one of those two primary law firms that get the bulk of corporate business and waves of positive referrals? Here are a few tips gleaned from the various presentations.
- Get client feedback and, more importantly, actually put it to use. Do not just ask questions, act on the answers.
- Offer to sit in on client product development meetings and planning meetings.
- Meet with clients to triage new matters coming in the door.
- Develop individual marketing plans for each of your firm’s largest clients.
- Arm partners with tools to communicate their understanding of the client’s business to the client.
From the general counsel panel:
- Author with me.
- Teach me.
- Strive to understand my business and industry.
- Talk to me about strategy.
Mark Roellig of Mass Mutual Financial Group mentioned that he is surprised at how many legal articles are written with the law firm attorneys not partnering with in-house counsel. He said co-authoring is a great way to shine some light on in-house counsel and it would make for a better article because it would have insight from both inside and outside counsel. Plus, it would improve the outside counsel relationship. Mark also suggested inviting in-house counsel to law firm business training. Inviting the general counsel and his or her attorneys to attend would be a gracious and, likely, much appreciated move.
When the general counsel panel was asked what attributes describe the best law firms, a few of the replies included:
- “Firms that have connected with me best are the ones that have taken the time to understand what my business is going through and then have asked me to sit down and talk to me about what that means to me.”
- “I find value in outside counsel that look at more than just legal but really try to understand our business. Sales teams that have been most productive are the ones who have taken the time to really understand what’s going on with my business.”
- “I find the most value in partners who strive to walk in our shoes and better understand our issues. I talk to approximately 22 law firms a week so my time is limited, but I will take a meeting from firms wanting to talk with me about corporate strategy.”
Last, our keynote speaker Kat Cole, who became president of Cinnabon at age 32, said, “Find a time when it really counts to be there for your client. Being there builds trust.”
The theme across all these session is clear: Volunteer. Get involved. Get to know the in-house attorneys. Learn their business and strive to understand their industry so that you can truly partner with them. Building business is all about building relationships, and we build relationship by building trust, which creates value. BTI used a great quote attributed to Warren Buffett that is very true, “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” I want to be on the value side.