The Anatomy of Law Firm Pitches

The Anatomy of Law Firm Pitches

What constitutes a good “pitch” to win legal work? This is a recurring discussion among legal marketing professionals, due to the large volume of pitches that every law firm produces. And there are indeed many good ideas and best practices to be embraced. However, the first best practice when it comes to pitches is to stop doing them! Nobody likes to be pitched. What clients need are business partners who solve business problems. So stop doing "pitches" and instead focus on addressing your client's business needs. Let’s discuss how.

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Understanding Change Triggers

In the Biglaw legal marketplace, it's taken as gospel that loyalty is dead. Corporate clients that once retained the same law firms over a multi-year period may now issue RFPs and shift the work to lower-priced firms. Partners with solid and portable client relationships may leap to new firms offering more generous compensation packages. Associates with certain pedigrees are test-driving their newly-rediscovered market appeal and selecting employers who will pay above-market rates. These changes are arguably a healthy reflection of a dynamic and competitive marketplace. One thing that hasn't changed, however, is that all of these changes are preceded by triggers; they don't just occur spontaneously. For examples, clients who change law firms always signal their dissatisfaction, though sometimes you have to watch closely to see the signs. I'm baffled why any law firm relationship partner is surprised when a new General Counsel or new Chief Executive Officer predictably launches a cost-cutting initiative or brings in trusted advisers from a prior life.  Why is it a surprise when a longtime client demands rate discounts several months after implementing a new e-billing system? When a client or prospective client issues an RFP and invites its procurement or finance team to the negotiation, why are law firm partners surprised to discover that alternative fees or discounts may be a necessary factor in winning the work, and not just pedigree or length of relationship? Some years ago in my corporate life my team established a "risk index" for our key clients, incorporating several independent factors that, when viewed in isolation, were mildly helpful indicators of satisfaction. However, when viewed collectively, these factors were surprisingly accurate in predicting when a valued client relationship was at risk, allowing us to be proactive in our retention efforts. This wasn't rocket science. We simply looked at factors like our contract terms (were they paying higher than average prices?), and depth of relationships (did we rely on one well-placed "friend in court" in the client organization, or had we established relationships at all levels?), and product penetration (did the client invest in numerous offerings or was our relationship limited to a single product or service), and product reliance (did the client have mission critical business processes relying heavily on our services, or were we in the "nice to have" category?), and even our own loyalty (has our sales and service team been consistent, or are we constantly re-assigning people and confusing the client with who to call?), and more. Two factors were highly correlated with risk, or a potential change in circumstances in our relationship. One was a change in our primary contact. The other was a notable change in the client's financial performance. When our primary contact changed, this nearly always led to a review where we had to defend the investment in our service offerings. And if the client or its parent organization had a bad year, even in an area totally unrelated to the line of business we were in, this nearly always led to belt-tightening that would sooner or later impact us.

As a result of this ongoing analysis, my team was rarely surprised. We developed a proactive toolkit when one of our key client relationships was flagged as high risk. And the clients loved it, because we often offered some creative solutions before they had formulated an attack plan, and in some cases, before they even were consciously aware that changes were needed. Who was unhappy? Our parent company, whose executives rejected any notion of proactive renegotiation because the only indicator of a relationship at risk that they would accept was an outright cancellation! This probably sounds familiar to many law firm leaders who hear soothing words from relationship partners of key clients until <gasp!> the client suddenly defects, or fades away without ever lodging a formal complaint. "But they love(d) us," the partner in charge will claim, all evidence to the contrary.

I was recently reviewing an old article in which I shared an instance of proactive service recovery by my preferred airline at the time, Continental. My closing remarks were prescient. Frequent fliers have certain buying triggers, and when an airline stops rewarding loyalty, the frequent fliers stop being loyal. Continental merged with United several years later, and, as loyal Continental fliers anticipated, the combined airline took on the service posture of United which is, shall we say, more focused on "What have you done for me lately?" than "Thank you for your many years of loyalty."

 

"Over the years I have flown to a lot of places. As a result I have earned many miles and points from various airlines, hotels, rail lines, car rental companies and other assorted vendors to the business traveler.

I have countless horror stories. You've all heard them. Or something like them. It's part of our culture to mock airport security, or express frustration at airline pricing, or bemoan the inattentiveness that leads to lost baggage and is compounded by further inattention in returning it.

But today I won't discuss what's gone wrong. I'll mention a couple incidents that went right.

Continental Airlines lost my bag last week. More accurately, I had 12 minutes to make a connection in Houston and I made it but my bag didn't. When we arrived at the final destination, the gate attendant came on board and paged me, asking me to see him as I stepped off the plane. He apologized that my bag didn't make it. He gave me the specific name of an agent in the baggage service office who was waiting for me, ready to complete the lost bag forms. Since I was awaiting a colleague on a later flight, I first stopped at the food court and had lunch. Apparently I was paged several times in baggage claim, as I received calls and text messages from alarmed friends. Then I received a call on my cell phone. The baggage service agent had called my home, explained to my wife that she wanted to help me expedite my claim, and asked for my cell phone number. I spoke to the agent briefly, stopped by the baggage claim office to fill out the form, and in about 4 hours the bag was waiting for me at my hotel. Two days later I received a letter in the mail from Continental, apologizing for the mixup and thanking me for being a customer.

Last year was my lightest travel year in over a decade. This was a blessing. But also a curse. Veteran travelers know that losing "elite" status means waiting in long lines with extended families, students, sports teams, foreigners baffled by the cacophony, and vacationers. As it turns out, I flew just enough to finally attain Million Miler status on Continental, which earned me lifetime elite status. I received a nice letter, a few related tokens of appreciation, and another thank you for my business. At the exact moment I expected to have no priority status while traveling and would therefore be more of a price shopper than a brand loyalist, Continental secured my loyalty. Again.

This is even more pleasing because several years ago I asked Continental -- the reason why now escapes me -- for a running tally of my earned miles. The agent who responded via email was curt: "We don't divulge that information except by court order." I forwarded the unusually hostile email to the head of OnePass, the loyalty program, who immediately apologized, provided the necessary information, and thanked me for my business. I suspect the customer service agent also received a scolding for not reflecting the proper service posture.

Continental still serves food. There are still pillows and blankets on the flights. Their rates are as good as anyone else's. These are good reasons to travel on Continental. But business travelers demand a high level of service, the sort of service posture I have come to expect and enjoy from Continental. So unless I move to a city which requires extraordinary effort to connect to a Continental hub, or unless the airline goes out of business, or merges with another airline and the service posture declines to the industry's lowest common denominator, then I will remain a fiercely loyal, and frequent, Continental Airlines traveler."*

 

There are two lessons here for law firm leaders. One: identify the change triggers that are likely to signal a potential change in circumstance with your client's buying patterns. Better yet, build this into a predictive index and apply it regularly to all clients that you wish to keep. Two: develop a proactive response for at-risk clients. The triggers vary, so the responses will vary. But the earlier you act, the greater the chance to salvage or even rejuvenate the relationship. You're going to hit some roadblocks. Relationship partners tend not to like anyone looking over their shoulder. And data is hard to come by. And developing a collaborative response plan is a challenge in an organization where collaboration isn't necessarily rewarded. But do it anyway. On occasion will you "poke the bear" and provoke a "Hey, we hadn't been thinking about you lately but now that you mention it, we're unhappy" response? Sure. But I'd rather control that conversation and stay involved in designing the outcome than have my competitor provoke the conversation unbeknownst to me. Loyalty isn't dead. It just needs some attention.

 

Timothy B. Corcoran was the 2014 President of the Legal Marketing Association and is an elected Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management. He delivers keynote presentations, conducts workshops, and advises leaders of law firms, in-house legal departments and legal service providers on how to profit in a time of great change. For more information, contact him at +1.609.557.7311 or at tim@corcoranconsultinggroup.com.

*This article first appeared in a previous blog in February 2009

Legal Marketing Association Releases "Body of Knowledge"

I'm pleased to have been chair of the Legal Marketing Association's inaugural Education Advisory Council in 2015. We combined input from numerous market leaders with our own insights to develop the first official LMA Body of Knowledge. This tool reflects the skills and competencies expected of different roles and levels of the various members of the Legal Marketing Association. It will guide leaders and managers in assessing team member strengths and areas of improvement, and it will help individuals plot their career paths. Many thanks to the numerous contributors who helped shape this inaugural effort. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yOH3JwP4aQg[/embed]

Random thoughts on the future of law and technology

I have the good fortune of meeting and collaborating with some pretty influential players in this cozy little global profession of law practice. Monica Bay is one of those with whom, and from whom, I've learned a great deal. While it's shocking to comprehend the passage of time, I first worked alongside Monica over 20 years ago when we were colleagues at a spunky little technology startup called Counsel Connect, a division of American Lawyer. You can probably google the history somewhere, but essentially Monica and I were part of an effort to bring social media and technology to the mainstream legal profession long before it was cool to do so. I played a minor role in comparison to the other staff members and volunteer contributors, many of whom continue today as thought leaders in this field. But over time I've gained a few insights of my own, and I've had the luxury of sharing my learnings and wisdom, such as it is, as a leader, manager, mentor, and now consultant, where I regularly offer insights at law firm and law department retreats, at conferences, and, of course, on this blog. I was delighted when Monica, in her role as roving reporter at the recent ILTACON15, asked me to spend a few moments reminiscing on what we've seen transpire in this profession, and what we see coming in the near and long-term. We touch on the role of technology, the demise (?) of the billable hour, project management, process improvement, change management and how incentives influence the pace of change, and what's next. I hope you enjoy watching and listening to our conversation as much as I enjoyed having it.

 

ILTACON 2015 - ILTA TV - Monica Bay interviews Timothy Corcoran from ILTA on Vimeo.

Leaders in Legal Business

Leaders in Legal BusinessThe legal profession is changing. Perhaps you've noticed? What was once a profession is now most assuredly a business. Of course, it's always been a business, but when things are going so well that both buyers and sellers are content, we can convince ourselves that we're above the challenges faced by lesser mortals. Things like economics, and consumer behavior, and profits in alignment to client satisfaction rather than in opposition. Luckily, the disruptive forces impacting the legal profession are pretty routine for anyone who studies business cycles. Those who are most challenged when facing a changed future are not those who have never faced these changes previously, for they will turn to expert guides. Those who will struggle mightily are those who refuse to believe lessons from other business segments apply, and they will blindly lurch from strategy to strategy in a vain attempt to maintain profits and market position while clinging to outdated business practices. Given my career history as a corporate executive and former CEO who now shares my business training with law firm and law department leaders, I was invited to contribute to a new publication, "Leaders in Legal Business," compiled by industry veteran Stephen McGarry. In his words:

"Is law a profession, a business, or both? For decades, every law school, bar association, and law society has posed this proverbial question. The fact is that today, the profession of law annually generates more than $700 billion dollars in revenue. There are several million people employed in the legal profession, and hundreds of thousands support it through products and services. Some would even argue that the profession of law has morphed into the business of law.

Twenty-eight distinguished leaders in legal business discuss the history, development and the future of the services and products they, their firms, companies and associations provide the profession of law. This is must reading for the legal profession."

I am pleased to be in the company of some of the fantastic minds helping to guide the profession today, many of whom are good friends as well as colleagues and thought leaders I turn to for inspiration. Take a look at this roster. It's like a live concert with the remaining Beatles joining the Rolling Stones on stage to play the entire Taylor Swift catalog, or something like that!

Here's the lineup:

Chapter 1 – Introduction to Leaders in Legal Business
Stephen McGarry – Founder Lex Mundi, WSG and HG.org
Overview – Legal Business Services Jordan Furlong – Principal, Edge International
Chapter 2 – Legal Business Publishers and Publications
Publishers on the Business of Law Bill Carter – President and CEO, ALM
Legal Business News John Malpas – Publisher, Legal Week, Incisive Media
Law Firm Directories and Rankings Derek Benton – Principal, Warwick Vine Consulting Ltd.
Chapter 3 – Legal Business Consultants and Advisors
Hiring a Consultant or Advisor Michael Roch – Founder and Partner, Kerma Partners
Law Firm Business Strategies Timothy B. Corcoran – Principal, Corcoran Consulting Group
Business Development, Coaching, and Sales Silvia Coulter – Founder and Partner, LawVision
Online Content Marketing Kevin O’Keefe – CEO, LexBlog
Social Media Marketing Nancy Myrland – Myrland Marketing and Social Media
Corporate Legal Management Susan Hackett – Principal, Legal Executive Leadership
Public and Media Relations Richard Levick – CEO, LEVICK
Recruiting and Staffing Jon Lindsey – New York Founding Partner, Major, Lindsey & Africa
Discovery and E-Discovery Carolyn Southerland – Former Director, Huron Consulting
Knowledge Management Ronald Friedmann – Senior Consultant, Fireman & Co.
Technology Assessment Robin Snasdell – Managing Director Huron Consulting
Chapter 4 – Law Firm and Multidisciplinary Networks
Stephen McGarry – Founder Lex Mundi, WSG and HG.org
Chapter 5 – The 100 Largest Law Firms – Management
Tony Williams – Founder and Principal, Jomati
Chapter 6 – The Bar, Corporate Counsel, and Administrative Associations
American Bar Association James Silkenat – Immediate Past President, ABA
International Associations Fernando Pelaez – Past President, IBA
Corporate Counsel Associations Veta Richardson – President, ACC
Legal Administration Associations Oliver Yandle – Executive Director, ALA
 Chapter 7 – New Law – Alternative Business Models
Mark Ross – Global Head - LPO, Integreon
Chapter 8 - The Future of Legal Business
Legal Business Publishing Tony Harriss – Group Managing Director, Globe Business Media Group
Overview – Legal Business Services Jordan Furlong – Principal, Edge International
Legal Business Consulting Gerry Riskin – Founder and Principal, Edge International
Law Firm Networks Stephen McGarry – Founder Lex Mundi, WSG and HG.org
International Law Firms Markus Hartung – Director, Bucerius Center on the Legal Profession
Bar and Legal Associations Bob Young – Chair, ABA Law Practice Management Division
New Law – Alternative Models Joseph Borstein and Edward Sohn – Global Directors, Pangea3
Chapter 9 – Epilogue
Stephen McGarry – Founder Lex Mundi, WSG and HG.org

 

And perhaps the best part is the book is free! Click here to download the PDF, and here to download the eBook. Enjoy!

 

Timothy B. Corcoran is the immediate past President of the Legal Marketing Association and an elected Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management. He delivers keynote presentations, conducts workshops, and advises leaders of law firms, in-house legal departments, and legal service providers on how to profit in a time of great change.  To inquire about his services, contact him at +1.609.557.7311 or at tim@corcoranconsultinggroup.com.