Want to attract corporate clients?
Get to know their in-house lawyers. Take them out to lunch. Show them why you would be the perfect candidate to handle some of their outside work.
And while you have their attention, assure them you’ll be taking a hands-on approach to their work and won’t farm it out to an assistant or associate. Companies crave that personal touch.
Those are some of the nuggets gleaned from a survey of 90 major US corporations that shelled out more than $16 billion in fees to outside counsel from 2007-2013. The survey, conducted by CEB-Datacert-Tymetrix, analyzed billing and invoice data from 5,600 law firms in the U.S. and internationally.
The bottom line: corporations are increasingly calling the shots when it comes to hiring and paying lawyers.
“Amidst a continually evolving and competitive post-recession legal environment, corporate law departments are gaining the upper hand in negotiating costs with law firms,” says the 2014 Real Rate Report. “This year’s findings demonstrate the growing power in the hands of legal departments to demand more affordable pricing alternatives for their legal work.”
Corporations Are Cutting Legal Costs
The Rate Report was designed as a cost-cutting tool for big businesses. “[It] helps legal departments identify cost-savings opportunities when working with different law firms, and provides a roadmap of what areas to target first.”
Translation: it helps companies find lawyers on the cheap and suggests ways to pinch even more pennies at invoice time.
But in pulling back the curtain on corporate decision-making, the report also provides valuable pointers for how solos and small firms can nab a slice of the pie.
- Ask for their business. One reason you might not have any corporate clients is that you haven’t sought their business. Let them know you’re interested and available.
- Play to your strengths. Businesses want lawyers who are available, hungry and nimble. You have these qualities – more so than your larger competitors. Plus you know everybody in town on a first-name basis. And you’re a snappy dresser. Use whatever advantages you have to woo deep-pocket clients.
- Do it yourself. A one-person operation simply can’t compete with big firms and their armies of associates, right? Wrong. Businesses are tired of spending greenbacks for work done by greenhorns. From the Rate Report: “Corporate legal departments are willing to pay a premium for higher quality work with less time spent, meaning that first-year associates are being used less frequently. This was evidenced by a 60 percent drop in the ratio of hours billed by first-year associates in the past five years.”
- Defend your home court. Businesses are looking for lawyers who live and work nearby. Lawyers who can drop what they’re doing and meet on short notice. Lawyers who can navigate to and from the local courthouse in their sleep.
- Offer alternatives to hourly fees. If there is one thing the Rate Report makes abundantly clear, it is that businesses distrust hourly billing. You can make yourself more attractive by proposing alternative arrangements such as flat fees or blended fees. Be creative. Offer to start at a discounted rate to showcase your awesomeness. Suggest a “results” incentive.
- Be willing to negotiate. Let them know you’re open to compromise on the terms of representation. Don’t sell yourself short, but be flexible. Agree to eat certain office expenses, for example, or cap travel costs.
Above all, do a great job and do it on time. That’s a surefire way to keep corporate clients coming back for more.
Do you represent corporations? Or perhaps you are in-house counsel? What do you think?
Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man is an attorney licensed in North Carolina and South Carolina. Formerly he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 919-619-2441.