Thursday, February 26, 2009

When the gravy train comes to a halt

In my daily conversations, I speak with attorneys that have sizeable books of business and attorneys who are fed by others.

Reading article after article on firms that are letting attorneys go and reviewing my inbox of resumes from 10-15-20 + year attorneys without any business I would not relish the idea of relying on anyone but myself to create and develop a client base.

One of the problems is perception. Understand that in this environment there is no such thing as “not expendable”. The other emotional hurdle that some attorneys may face is the reality that without any business you have more than likely been overpaid to this point.

I recently spoke with a few partners around Florida that are making over $350k without any business. They are asking to make a move to another firm because they feel like their firm will cut them but are not willing to take a significant cut in pay to do so. When that day comes that the ax falls, and that day unfortunately draw neareth, nothing from nothing leaves nothing in salary.

So if you have been fed by others and have had you’re a-ha moment that it is time to start developing business here are some ideas and some expected roadblocks.

Start with talking with the decision makers that you know. Roadblock: If you knew them and have not developed business from them as partner, shame on you, someone else probably has. Just because they have a relationship with you doesn’t mean they don’t have relationships with others. It’s a start but while you are trying to secure a small piece of business that may lead to more, use them as a the starting point to a referral network.

Time management is the foundation for client development. No one is more reluctant to start prospecting than someone that hasn’t had to do it for a very long time. Set aside sacred prospecting time and have goals around that time.

Develop a network to start:

Internal (within firm)- You would be surprised how many times that I hear attorneys say they have work in other areas of practice but don’t know who to give it to within their own firm!

Reach out to:
Members of same practice area (regionally, nationally, internationally)
Members of complimentary practice areas (regionally, nationally, internationally
Form deal teams
Update others on business and involve where you can (grow your deal)

Develop small groups with other professions and meet at least once a month to share references, opportunities
Offer references on your work (names, case studies, publications, etc.)
Ask how you can assist them to grow their business
Commit with them to bring 1-2 new members in per month
Become a speaker with a vertical market and add a vertical each quarter
Research and meet with attorneys from other firms as part of your plan. One meeting per week. Bring them business if possible.
Blogs, writing forums, e-newsletters
Facilitate client meeting groups

Develop measurable success stories that you can deliver to people with different job titles. Power buys from power. Make sure that you are identifying decision makers and talking with them. Otherwise you are just wasting time.

Success story model:

“I was working with…” Key decision maker job title, VP, GC, C-level, etc

“whose critical issue was….” Business issue, not necessarily legal issue

“the reason was…” why that was an issue

“he/she said they needed”… capabilities (firm, practice areas, business need)

“we provided them with that capability..”

“and the result was…” if at all possible a measurable result. Reduced reporting, compliance, savings, cost reduction, etc.

Just because you start having these meetings and doing these things doesn’t mean that rain will start immediately falling. It’s the start to a process. For some attorneys that have seen their book dwindle it’s getting back to the fundamentals.

Written by: Andrew Wilcox,, 850-893-8984

Welcome to the world of RFP's

Welcome to the world of RFP’s

So the RFP hits the streets and you begin to read all of these specs that a company has and wonder how interesting some of the specifics are.

Need a firm with offices in 12 states.
Board Certified ERISA counsel
AM Law Top 50 firm
Recognized diversity program
Specific technology requirements
Reporting requirements

You begin to say, that kinda sounds like “that” firm. Well you got it.

If you are an attorney or law firm and are just now engaging in the process your choices are few.

1) Try and schedule a meeting with a contact and secure meetings with key decision makers to rework the specs into your favor.

2) Choose not to respond

3) Dedicate enormous and expensive resources to respond to a document that was written for someone else to win.

Client development is sales. Congratulations. When you were pulling all-nighters in law school and working through holidays, weekends, special occasions to meet deadlines only to come up for air at brief intervals. You think back on your decision to be an attorney and say, “You know what, I really wish I was in sales!”

You are in luck. You are. So is everyone in your firm if you want to survive in this economic environment.

In sales, there are two winners. The one who gets the business and the one who got out first without commiting a lot of resources toward a losing endeavor.

The RFP process is just that. Unless you read the RFP and the specs are written with you in mind your chances of winning are slim. The relationships that you have developed all come down to a purchasing agent who does not care who you are or what awards your firm has won. They are there to get the lowest price.

Questions to ask after the RFP has hit the street:

1) Is my/ our firms work a commodity?

2) Is there a way to leverage relationships with this company to rewrite the specs and ultimately win the business? Ask stakeholders what the business drivers are for the RFP. Without a business reason for an RFP it is usually just price. Refer to point #1.

3) With the internal cost of responding to RFP’s, is the cost vs. benefit worth it? How many losses in responses can you absorb for the one that you win?

4) Is there a way to effectively subcontract with the winning firm?

How to write the specs:

1) Get beyond the GC and identify other stakeholders from a company.
a. If a GC leaves you now do not have to start over fresh with the company
b. You do one area of practice but a VP in another area may have other issues, latent needs. (maybe heading off products liability issues, employee comp) why have a piece when you can get the whole.

2) Value based questioning. Asking business level questions that focus the conversation on the specific business line. Talk legal issues with legal people, finance, marketing, operations issues with those stakeholders.
a. How are they doing it today? How many people is that taking? How much is that costing? Who else is affected?
b. Find discrete areas of value and tie numbers to it. What would it save in reduced time on reporting, compliance, reduced fines, etc.

At some point you will have to deal with purchasing. However, if you have every key decision maker from various business units saying that you are the one that they want, and more specifically, you can show them a cost vs. benefit of using your services rather than your competitors you can avoid becoming a commodity.

Written by Andrew Wilcox,, 850-893-8984