Many law firms seek corporate clients as much for prestige as for potential revenue and profits. In the process, they overlook the fact that often, a corporate client is interested in cost containment as well as effectiveness. Consequently, the negotiated fees end up being on the low side of current market trends. For certain tasks, some will consider and negotiate value billing. In speeches, panel discussions, and journal articles by corporate counsel, it is abundantly clear what they want. In attracting corporate clients, brochures can be practically valueless, particularly if they are just sent out in a random search effort. This is because the attorney or firm must respond to specific client needs. A brochure is normally too general to do this and can only be a supplement to a client-based approach.
It is up to the attorney to discover specific needs, such as merger and acquisition, securities, environmental litigation, product liability, or some other area. Outside attorneys whose firms provide complete legal services are of no importance to a particular corporate client. Clients need only one thing at any given time and at any particular locale.
WHAT CORPORATE CLIENTS LOOK FOR
Corporate law departments have been slowly evolving so that they no longer depend solely on outside counsel for resolution of matters. Now, many matters are handled internally due to larger staffs and increased specialization of corporate attorneys. The work which is passed on to outside counsel is more focused and requires a great deal of specialization. As a result, greater partner involvement has become necessary as firms are no longer able to pass much of the work onto lesser skilled associates.
Whereas several years ago an attorney or firm providing legal advice and expertise to a corporate client might have been given a good deal of free rein, now corporate clients require greater control over the management of matters. This means less variation between original proposals and final results (as well as bills).
Perhaps a great deal of this tightening of the corporate legal belt is due to an increased concern for efficiency. Corporate legal department budgets certainly seem to be under greater scrutiny these days. Corporate law matters are considered to be business rather than law oriented. Detailed billings are often required to demonstrate work accomplished and results achievedas compared to expenses incurred. The key to attracting corporate clients is multifaceted. According to current trends, the attorney must be
- Specialized to handle a particular need.
- Able to demonstrate good project management skills.
- Efficient in operations.
- On target with regard to ability to follow through on proposal objectives and budgets.
- Uniquely knowledgeable (the more so the better) regarding the corporate client's business.
The crucial factor, though, remains the personal relationship. The attorney must establish and maintain a significant amount of trust and confidence. As corporations have stated, they seek attorney referrals from trusted referral sources. Law firm advertising, public relations, and general reputation may help influence the hiring decisions of corporate counsel, but
they will never supersede the power of solid referrals. In the final analysis, it boils down to the relationship between the corporate client and the lead outside attorney rather than between the corporation and the law firm. For the attorney just starting out on the trail of corporate clients, the listing in Martindale-Hubbell Directory is only a starting place to establishing name recognition.
In a broad sense, corporate general counsel's decision processes are no different from that of the local closely held business that needs either to change attorneys or is seeking expertise in a particular area. Much of the decision will be based on the personal relationship.