Everyone knows that law firm pitches are terrible, and nobody is happy about it – not the lawyers, not the marketing/BD teams, and definitely not the clients.
Although most lawyers find it uncomfortable to sell their services by simply bragging about their expertise, firm pitches force them to do exactly that. They need to describe their personal greatness, the awesomeness of their transactions, etc. Even worse, as they recognize that their competitors are saying the exact same thing, it’s hard to get excited about slapping together yet another unimaginative pitch.
The marketing/BD teams are equally frustrated. Since they have a marketing background, they understand the absurdity of just copying the marketing approaches of competitors as opposed to talking about meaningful differentiators. But, since they are not lawyers, who’s going to listen to their opinion?
Last not but least, we have the clients. Imagine that you are a client with an important matter. You send out an RFP to several firms, and each firm sends you almost the exact same information. It’s no wonder that clients regularly choose the cheapest offer.
Regardless whether you work at a client or a law firm, you can improve the pitching process by getting all participants to focus on the client’s business.
The Missing Ingredient: The Client’s Business
If you ask in-house counsel to identify their biggest problem with law firms, you will likely hear that the lawyers simply don’t understand their business. For example, in Altman Weil’s 2019 Chief Legal Officer Survey, in-house leaders were asked to select the main improvements that they would like to see from outside counsel. Not surprisingly, the most popular choices focused on saving money (e.g., “greater cost reduction”). However, after these money-related responses, the most popular answer was “Greater effort to understand our business.”
With this in mind, wouldn’t it be a good idea to differentiate your firm from competitors by using your pitch to demonstrate your understanding of potential clients’ business? In particular, I recommend that you dedicate just a page of your written pitch or a few slides of your .ppt to address the key business issues that will impact and shape your service to their company.
To identify the key business issues of your client, you need to talk to them. In other words, once you get invited to pitch, pick up that phone and start investigating the relationship between (i) the transaction/dispute, (ii) the client’s business goals, and (iii) your firm’s services. In particular, you are likely to obtain valuable information by asking the following types of questions: (i) How is this transaction/dispute important to your company’s business? (ii) How do you envision the best possible structure/result for this transaction/dispute? (iii) Who are the key stakeholders for this transaction/dispute? What is their position/opinion/interest on/in this matter? (iv) What are your biggest concerns regarding how your external counsel manages this matter? (v) Is there anything special (i.e., not addressed in the RFP) that you or your colleagues would like us to address in our pitch?
Most clients welcome such questions and will happily provide surprisingly detailed answers. With these answers, you can improve your pitch by: (i) communicating your understanding of these fundamental business interests, and (ii) explaining how you would ensure that your firm’s services would best address them.
However, clients should not sit around and wait for lawyers to take the initiative. Many lawyers feel uncomfortable with picking up the phone to ask such questions. If you expect your lawyers to pick up the phone, it’s not a bad idea to communicate this expectation explicitly.
Similarly, the marketing/BD teams can greatly support their lawyers in this process by (i) compiling useful questions to support clients, (ii) obtaining feedback about the success of questions and sharing these with the lawyers, and (ii) updating firm pitch templates to include a section focused on client business interests.
Aaron Muhly is an American lawyer who has been training European professionals on clear writing and effective communication for over 15 years.