Insights from In-House Counsel - Rinse and Repeat?

Yesterday, the Dallas Legal Marketing Association (LMA) held its monthly meeting and popular, annual panel:  Insights from In-House Counsel.  The panelists included Bruce Dean, General Counsel for Stevens Transport; Tonya Johannsen, General Counsel for The Beck Group; Brian Memory, Senior Vice President, Assistant General Counsel for PlainsCapital Corporation; and Kelvin Sellers, Deputy General Counsel for Interstate Batteries.  Panel moderator, Mike Androvett of Androvett Legal Media asked questions relevant to the audience composed of legal marketing professionals and attorneys.

Was this just an exercise in ‘Rinse and Repeat?’

I began my career in legal marketing in 1998 and was asked then what I'm asked today...  It's the same question posed by attorneys to other legal marketing and business development pros, the same question Androvett posed to the Thursday panel in Dallas:

How do attorneys ‘get in front of’ In-House Counsel?

The panelists gave thoughtful and clear responses - which have been true since before I entered this profession, and which will continue to be true:

1.  Build a Relationship (prior to officially pitching).  There are many ways to do this, both in person and by on-line research of their backgrounds and interests (those of the targeted contact and the company).

2.  Get to Know Our Business / Take an Interest in Our Business.  I always enjoy learning about someone's business and/or legal practice.  It's necessary to perform well on any related tasks, and often satisfying to learn more about the industry and the people involved.  I'm sure you can quickly recall special cases where you were surprised by how much you enjoyed learning about a new area of law.  The more you develop your knowledge around a prospect/client, the more willing you will be to go to bat for them, and ideas for solutions will come to your mind more easily.  Your growing knowledge will deepen your relationship.

3.  Be Authentic.  Don't just sell.  Authenticity comes from your ability to a) build the relationship, b) learn about the business, and c) help the prospect learn about you - who you are, how you do business (your attitude and approach, not just your resume).  The panelists also emphasized the importance of showing genuine interest (don't fake it just to land business - people recognize when you do this).  The client's or prospect's desire for authenticity derives from a need to trust you.  You can help lay initial groundwork for trust by the content you place online.

It’s great to have shared interests, but also be authentic. We understand that you want to build business, but we hope you’re also interested in what we do.
— In-House Panelist, Dallas LMA, October 2015

My point in this post is:  Yes, the discussion yesterday repeated the requests of other In-House Counsel I have heard in the past...because those requirements are true and work.

A few other tips mentioned yesterday?

> Ask for feedback.  This was suggested for situations where you don't win the business.  I would encourage you to ALWAYS ask for feedback on the pitch - won or lost.  It will only help you hone your message, your style, and your understanding of clients and the (sales) process.

> Pre-screen the pitch.  This was a GREAT question asked by an audience member:  "Would you be open to having a Marketing representative contact you at the start of the pitch process, in an effort to better understand your current concerns, so that the pitch we ultimately provide would be as on-point as possible?" (I have modified her words, but this is the essence of her question.)  

The panelists were generally positive and receptive to this idea.  This was also encouraged earlier this year at the annual LMA International conference and the #BigLaw summit in New York this summer.  Thus - I would suggest you always consider this step as part of your pitch process:  that you collaborate early with your team (including your marketing point-person) to determine how to approach this step and with what questions, and tailor this step to each client.  And, for those inclined to make this step with attorneys only:  if you're not confident in having your marketing adviser perform this research, add an attorney for a team inquiry rather than replace the marketing staffer.  Remember, your marketing adviser should be able to ask questions on your behalf in a different way than a lawyer might - so that you obtain deeper insights.  Also, if you are unwilling to task your marketer with this research step, consider what that says about your confidence in the marketer and/or your willingness  to delegate responsibility.

> Hiring more in-house attorneys before going to the outside firm.  Earlier this year, a few companies appeared to be trending even more toward hiring additional in-house attorneys, before considering available labor from an outside firm.  I was able to ask two of the panelists their thoughts on this small trend, one said yes, it is something their company considers and/or does.  The other replied that they would likely continue with present staff, and seek outside assistance as needed.  (This trend regards attempts to maintain common hourly costs for attorneys who help with general legal business - not for the rare, bet-the-company situations where a company would hire an outside firm for particular experience.)

Flip Cat Consulting works with attorneys, practice groups, and firms to develop and refine business development strategy via the tools that best suit your time, abilities, and goals.  Contact us to discuss your 2016 Business Development Plan.