As an in-house lawyer who occasionally influences our selection of outside counsel, I hear an awful lot of law firm pitches. And I must admit that I’m often entertained by them. I spent better than 25 years in the private practice of law, where attracting new business was an important part of the game. I was never sure which pitches had a chance and which didn’t, so it’s pretty amusing to sit on the other side of the table to see how other folks approach this.
I recently saw one good pitch and one bad one, and I just have to share.
First, the bad one. Several lawyers from a firm visited us for a chance to explain their firm’s capabilities. I don’t remember why we were meeting with them — we actually had a need for them; someone recommended them; someone important asked us to meet with them as a favor; whatever. I used to think that getting in the door to meet with potential clients was a big achievement; I now realize that it meant less than I thought.
Anyway, these guys started the pitch the usual way: The firm has lots of great lawyers who’ve done lots of great things in their lives. The firm is divided into several departments, and those divisions should for some reason matter to me. A couple of magazines had bestowed some awards on the firm or its lawyers. Yadda, yadda, yadda.
And then the associate speaks….
I actually thought there was a chance for something interesting here. Law firms don’t often bring associates to this type of generic pitch. (If a firm is proposing a team of lawyers to work on one specific case, it’s common for us to meet the senior partner proposed for the matter and some of the junior lawyers who will staff the case. But when we’re meeting a firm to learn generally about the firm’s capabilities, it’s typically three or four very senior folks; the associates stay home.) What would the associate say?
Ha! He used the pitch that he must have used last week to try to recruit a second-year law student to spend a summer at the firm: “I worked for several years at a large, prestigious law firm. I didn’t have the chance to do any real work; I reviewed documents, answered discovery, and wrote deposition outlines. I decided to move to this mid-size firm because I wanted some real experience. And I was absolutely right to make the move! In the two years that I’ve been at this firm, I’ve taken a bunch of depositions and even got to second-chair a trial!”
Nice pitch; wrong situation. That story might well convince a law student or lateral recruit to come to work for your firm. But it doesn’t say much to a person who’s trying to figure out if he should hire you. I’m delighted that your new firm has improved your life, but I’m trying to identify lawyers with substantive knowledge of our business and top-notch skills to represent us. I hate to be mean about this, but whether you’ve gotten to take a couple of depositions just doesn’t weigh in my calculus.
Happily, there’s the other side of the coin.
I had lunch with a highly-credentialed guy (fancy schools; Review; Coif; clerkship; federal prosecutor; blah, blah, blah) who had recently left a government job to join a large firm. This guy cast his pitch basically this way: “This pitch is only going to work for a year or two, so I figure I should make the most of it: I had the choice of joining the partnership at a fair number of prestigious firms when I left government service a few months ago. I thought about those offers, and I decided that this firm was the best. You’re now making the same choice: You’re deciding which law firm would be best for you. So let me tell you a couple of reasons why I decided to join this firm . . . .”
Sadly, he’s right that his pitch will work for only a short time. But it was an interesting change of pace, and I’m always glad to hear things that are slightly unusual. (I can’t yet say whether the pitch will work. I’m just saying that it was, at a minimum, slightly off the beaten path. I guess I don’t set the bar too high for these things.)
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 (affiliate link). You can reach him by email at [email protected].