How do people in client-facing business development roles add value to the firm’s internal clients (aka, attorneys)?
First and foremost, they do so by helping to vet prospective external clients or potential growth opportunities with current clients of the firm.
Whether you find yourself at a targeted networking event, or an early meeting with someone you met via warm introduction, you’re likely looking for details to establish whether or not your prospect is viable. Here are three tips to help guide you through uncharted waters when meeting such prospective clients, and how to translate that value back to your attorneys:
1. Screen for Sustainability
If you’re at a boutique firm, vetting a prospect’s problem is a no-brainer. At a small firm, it’s more complex but manageable. If you’re at a large firm, there may be very few practice areas that your firm “can’t” handle - but, try to help solve this question instead: should your firm, at the rates your attorneys charge, handle this type of matter?
Arming yourself with institutional knowledge of past experience (whether via knowledge management or anecdotal exchange) and standard billing rates or fee structures (via your time & billing system) can help you gauge, generally speaking, the impact of a particular type of matter and the scope with which it can be budgeted for.
While it’s not your place to specifically price a matter for a prospect, nor should you, it is very helpful when steering a conversation to understand the pricing and profitability strategy of your firm.
Insider Tip: Internal clients often lack a full understanding of all of the firm’s offerings, easily getting siloed in their own practice area or industry group. By familiarizing yourself with the wide breadth of services the firm provides, as well as aligning yourself with whomever handles your pricing function, you add value to your attorneys by connecting the dots and preventing work from passing by that could be handled by someone in-house.
2. Clear Your Conflicts
Once you’ve sidestepped the above, ask yourself: is this something we can handle?
Using whatever process your firm has in place through its time & billing or experience system, run an initial conflicts check to see if there are any obvious red flags that would prevent the firm from representing this prospective client. Uncovering something glaring will stop the conversation dead in its tracks.
...always try to help a prospect find the fit they need, even if that isn’t your firm
Should that be the case, remember that arming yourself with the knowledge to be able to refer the prospect to someone else can be equally valuable, in terms of brand management. As you continue to cultivate relationships throughout your networks, always try to help a prospect find the fit they need, even if that isn’t your firm - they will remember you in the future when there is another matter you may be able to bring in.
Insider Tip: Oftentimes, your internal clients find conflicts checks cumbersome to run, or simply wait until further into a conversation to run one. By taking the onus off of your attorneys to determine whether the matter is something that can or should be engaged (or, beginning the conversation with someone who would have the authority to entertain a conflict waiver), you save a timekeeper several hours of communications to come to the same conclusion.
3. Prioritize Personalities
Dig further into your data, but on the human capital side: given that the firm can handle this type of work in a profitable fashion, and doesn’t have any existing conflicts, is there someone with capacity at the moment who you think would get along with the prospective client?
Handing off a warm introduction to the wrong attorney is the kiss of death; if you aren’t thoughtful about it, you run the risk of tarnishing the firm’s brand if the client is unsatisfied, and you may leave the lawyer bewildered.
A legal sales professional must make it very evident that he/she is not aligned with any attorney in particular...
Be thoughtful in “match-making” between prospects and the attorneys at your firm, and recognize that qualifying questions about someone’s personal definition of responsiveness, preferred communication style, or acknowledging his/her general demeanor can help you to assess the likelihood of their jiving with someone at your firm.
Insider Tip: This one is highly nuanced, and can be difficult to pull off without addressing several harsh realities. A legal sales professional must make it very evident that he/she is not aligned with any attorney in particular, and simply has the best interest of the client or prospect in mind. Citing data points wherein the prospect mentioned non-negotiable preferences that directly go against an available attorney’s style will be helpful, should someone be upset by a lack of introduction. It’s important to reinforce that we, as legal sales professionals, have no dog in this fight - we only want the client to have the best possible experience with the firm, and that begins with the right personal relationship with an attorney.
Keeping these three tips in mind at your next networking event, and being able to speak intelligibly to your firm’s services and the attorneys you work with each day, will help to highlight the immense value that your efforts add to prospecting and overall client service continuity. By saving your internal clients countless billable hours exploring these prospective opportunities, you allow them to focus on their legal work and provide them only with the most useful insights and introductions, adding efficiency to their practices.
In my next post, I’ll dig into how and why the client feedback process in smaller firms helps to tie all of the disparate parts of the client service experience together, and how to combat some common struggles firms face when trying to enact such an initiative.
Jenna Schiappacasse is Director of Client Development at Rosenberg Martin Greenberg LLP and is proudly serving as Co-Chair of the Legal Sales & Service Organization’s 2020 Raindance Conference. She also currently serves as the 2020 Immediate Past President for LMA’s Mid-Atlantic Region, and as Co-Executive Editor of the 2020 LMA Strategies Magazine Editorial Team. Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow for her latest writing on JD Supra.