Biglaw, In-House Counsel, Midsize Firms / Regional Firms, Practice Pointers

Moonlighting: Common Mistakes Law Firms Make When Pitching to In-House Counsel

You’re an attorney at a mid-sized or large firm and have received an opportunity to pitch your firm’s work to a brand new prospective client. You’ve researched the company and the deals that your firm has worked on that would be a good match. All you have to do is go into the meeting sounding like you know what you’re talking about, and soon you’ll be raking in the hourly dough, right?

Perhaps. Many attorneys would be benefit from heeding Alexander Graham Bell’s words: “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” A lot of you falsely believe you’re just unnaturally talented at just winging it. And most of the companies you pitch to will never tell you that no, you’re really not. What follows are some actual examples of some common mistakes that lawyers make when pitching their firms to in-house counsel….

You think you’re gifted in being able to BS your way through an hour of conversation. For reasons understood by no one, some lawyers really don’t prepare very much at all for these meetings and seem to rely on… what? The fact that they’ve pitched many times before with varying success? Their good looks? The clever wit and charm they use to win over other ATL trolls? Maybe these work with some prospective clients (and all law school trolls), but it won’t work with everyone, and it certainly won’t work with more sophisticated individuals. It’s particularly annoying if the firm has been asked to be prepared to address a specific topic, and instead of discussing it in detail, they’ve decided to fluff around the subject instead.

You don’t know the company’s business or the business of the particular in-house lawyers you’re meeting with. You should at least be familiar with the publicly available materials about the company. Don’t assume that the in-house lawyer you’ll be meeting with supports any particular part of the business that you happen to have heard about. If you can’t tell which business the lawyer works in, after looking at, say, their LinkedIn profile, just ask them. And after you find out, don’t embarrass yourself by failing to be as detail-oriented in your research about the business as you are in counting spaces after a period. For example, don’t respond as follows to a lawyer who works in real estate investments, “Oh sure, we’ve done tons of real estate brokerage work.”

You’re not sure who the truly evil ones company’s competitors are. Once you’ve figured out for sure just what the hell the in-house lawyer does for a living, understand who the other main players are in the company’s industry and what they’re up to. (By the way, if you find that this is something you need to do a lot of research on, it’s an indication that you may not be familiar enough with the industry to be a good outside counsel candidate.)

You’re not in the know. Nothing impresses in-house counsel like law firm attorneys who follow developing trends in the company’s industry — what the industry associations and regulators are focusing on, or what you expect they’ll focus on in the near future. And of course, offering some free legal advice relating to these trends during the pitch meeting is always appreciated, and an indication of the type of value you can provide going forward.

You use marketing materials from the sixth century just because they reference your firm’s biggest deal ever. Hint: if it’s presented on papyrus, it may be a little too dated. If you’re bringing up deals that happened a few years ago as the main examples of what you can offer the potential client, the in-house lawyer may be thinking, “You don’t do those deals often enough for me to hire you.”

You avoid talking about the fees. As in-house counsel, what would you want to hear when you ask outside counsel about fees? “Oh, we’re flexible and can offer a lot of pricing arrangements — I’m sure we can figure it all out when the time comes.” Or, “Here are some of the arrangements that we’ve had success with in working with similar clients… and of course, each of these can be customized for your specific needs.” Also, be prepared with the names and backgrounds of specific attorneys you plan to assign to matters.

You bring fifty people for a conversation that only needs two. When law firms bring along a bunch of attorneys to the pitch meeting who don’t say anything, especially if they’ve traveled from all over, in-house counsel wonder what they’re all doing there and feel pressured to make their time worthwhile. If some associates are just tagging along to learn how a pitch works, then fine, just explain that. If you’re not sure which experts you’re expected to bring the meeting, just ask. Another mistake: not considering diversity, or bringing a token female or minority attorney who doesn’t say a word the entire time.

You know how in movies, business people use charts, spreadsheets, and other mind-numbing data displays when giving presentations? Yeah, companies really create those — tons of them, and they’re often more complicated than the ones they have in movies. They’re the result of a lot of prep, research, and data-gathering on backgrounds, financials, trends, etc. So in-house lawyers are used to participating in discussions where there’s at least a semblance of preparation. We’re really not as easy to BS as we look, so take the time to use the most of your pitch opportunity. Your trolling wit will only get you so far. There’s a whole world out there beyond ATL tees!


Susan Moon is an in-house attorney at a travel and hospitality company. Her opinions are her own and not those of her company or anyone she works with. Susan may share both her own and others’ experiences (especially the experiences of those who have expressly indicated to her that they must not under any circumstances be shared on ATL). You can reach her at SusanMoonATL@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at @SusanMoon.

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