Business development: What works?
I was on the other side — the law firm side — of the business development coin for 25 years. And those 25 years taught me this about generating business: Raise your profile; stay in touch with people; and get lucky.
I was never once retained by dint of good looks or charm. (Anyone who’s seen or met me won’t find this to be surprising.)
And I don’t play golf.
So what’s a lawyer to do? What business development efforts worked for me, and what might work for you?
Here are three examples of what worked for me.
First: Four years out of law school, I wrote a law review article about the reviewability of federal trial court remand orders. A lawyer got himself sanctioned in connection with a remand order, stumbled across the article, and asked me to handle his appeal. (That first call, when a client comes to you — you! — for help with a legal matter, is awfully flattering.) Two years later, the same lawyer was outgunned by opposing counsel in a very large case, and he again called for help. We were pleased to oblige.
Raise your profile; get lucky.
Second: The CEO of a small company in Ohio needed a lawyer who could help with a case that had tentacles in both Cleveland and Los Angeles. He went to Jones Day’s website, because he knew that firm had offices in both cities. He looked through on-line biographies for lawyers whose credentials he found to be acceptable. (I’m not making this up; he told me this.) Of the acceptable candidates, he looked for a lawyer with experience in medical devices used in spinal surgery.
Third: I stayed generally in touch with a college buddy for many years. He ultimately went in-house. We arranged to speak together on panels occasionally (largely as an excuse to meet in New York periodically for good dinners). When his company ran a beauty contest to select counsel to defend a set of pharmaceutical product liability cases, he decided to send an invitation to me. My firm responded and ultimately won the business, which both resulted in some fascinating legal business and kept my buddy and me meeting for dinners regularly.
Stay in touch; get lucky.
But now I’m in-house, and what’s the view from here?
First, know — and impress — the people who work here. Relationships, and recommendations from colleagues, are awfully important.
Second, stay gently in touch. To retain you, I must think of you on the day I’m picking counsel. If I’ve forgotten that you exist, then I won’t think of you and won’t retain you. Don’t be a pest, but don’t let me forget about you.
Right. But what if you don’t know either my colleagues or me, so no one will recommend you and there’s no one to pester?
One trick that I missed in private practice, but that seems like a great idea from my new in-house perspective, is to offer a relevant, high-quality CLE program for a small group of in-house lawyers at their workplace.
Many in-house lawyers are pleased to attend free CLE courses offered on-site at the corporation. Throw in a free sandwich and a cookie, and the whole legal department will show up.
That puts you alone in a conference room with a small group of people who can become clients.
But then comes the hard part: You must create a relevant, high-quality CLE program.
Relevance is a pretty easy target to hit. A ton of subjects matter to in-house counsel.
But high-quality is much trickier.
If you offer a CLE program about the attorney-client privilege, and then spend a half hour telling us that there are people called attorneys, and people called clients, and communications between them are sometimes protected from disclosure, you’re going nowhere.
Worse than nowhere. We’ve met you, and we’ve affirmatively decided that we don’t care to hire you.
But if the CLE program is tailored to the occasion, thoughtful, and well-presented, you can win us over in a heartbeat. How about addressing, for example, how the attorney-client privilege applies to in-house counsel when lawyers in the United States send e-mails to their corporate clients in (1) common law countries, (2) civil law countries, and (3) formerly communist countries? Does the privilege remain intact?
And what about other collisions between national laws? Some civil law countries recognize only a limited attorney-client privilege, but permit no discovery in litigation. Confidentiality is maintained not by the privilege, but because your opponents cannot request the evidence. When those same attorney-client communications, which would not have been disclosed in their home countries, are sought in a case pending in the United States, there’s a real conflict of laws. What happens? How, if at all, can one maintain the privilege?
Offering that program requires doing hard work. You won’t create a great program by spending fifteen minutes the night before your talk jotting down stray thoughts on a legal pad. But it’s surely worth your time to create a good program, and you could probably amortize the cost of preparation by presenting the same program to many corporate clients.
One final twist: Instead of simply offering an in-house CLE program, ask someone at the corporation what subjects the in-house folks are currently wrestling with. And then customize a program that deals directly with one of those subjects. You’re likely to draw a larger audience to that talk, and you’re likely to have more a more attentive audience.
My general point is obvious: To develop business, you must meet people. You must impress them. You must stay in touch with them. You must raise your profile. And you must get lucky.
But my particular point may be more useful: Figure out a way to put yourself in a conference room talking to a small group of in-house lawyers about an issue that matters to them. And then knock their socks off.
Good luck with it.
Mark Herrmann is the Vice President and Chief Counsel – Litigation at Aon, the world’s leading provider of risk management services, insurance and reinsurance brokerage, and human capital and management consulting. He is the author of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law.
You can reach him by email at email@example.com.