Relationships for lawyers and clients has always been a Big Deal, but now they are bigger than ever. Take the move from inhouse counsel to law firm – yes, it is happening with increasing frequency because corporates change and merge and fail just like law firms. Which means inhouse counsel can be left wondering what to do with their careers. And one of the big things they can do is take their relationship from Big Business back into Big Law.
Writing in Inside Counsel, Mike Evers wrote about a friend laid off from a Fortune 500 law department after a ‘power struggle’. Sounds just like a law firm, right?
But, as he writes, the battle for client retention is non-stop at law firms.
Gone, for the most part, are the days of “institutional clients” handed down from generation to generation within a law firm. Today’s mantra is relationships, relationships, relationships.
I don’t handle law firm placement, so this is my version of pro bono work: I am helping my friend put together a robust business plan that will help him pivot back to a law firm career. For starters, it’s what he wants to do. I don’t recommend this approach if it’s not in your heart. But if you want to build a practice, you might be pleasantly surprised at how marketable you are right now in law firm world.
Inside counsel control a greater percentage of legal work than ever. Not so many years ago, law firm Rainmakers sold around law departments and got work directly from CEOs, CFOs, division presidents, etc. Now, the general counsel and her team are the law firm’s clients. If you have an in-house network in place, ideally beyond just the four walls of your current company, then you have the starting point for success as a Rainmaker. Moreover, your understanding of what clients want, and how law departments budget and allocate work, is valuable knowledge within a law firm.
The business plan should have three major components:
- An outline of your relationships.
- Specific timelines for meeting with potential clients, organizing events to which you can invite your contacts (such as CLE), conferences you will attend, and as much marketing activity as you can articulate. The value here is three-fold. Your plan will stand out as serious and thoughtful, it will buy you the necessary time to convert contacts into clients, and it will push you to actually engage in those activities once you join the firm.
- Discuss your managerial expertise and how it can benefit the law firm. You are uniquely positioned to help troubleshoot client relationships that are teetering, and otherwise advise firm management on best practices for presenting services to inside counsel.
Once you have the attention of a law firm that makes sense for you (many variables, I’ll address that in a future column), the key ingredients for success are time, title and money.