How to Influence General Counsel to Build Your Business

How to Influence General Counsel to Build Your Business

Once you’ve identified a potential client, how do you get a foot in the door? After you’ve won some or all of a company’s legal work, how do you keep that company as a client?

Here are some tips for mid-sized firms to consider as they develop new business:

Tell them what they need to hear, not what you think they want to hear.  Be candid, be fair and speak to the GCs as if they are human beings. I recently heard from a General Counsel who described a particular case in which her then-outside counsel held back important information regarding the matter, possibly out of concern that they might offend her. As a result, she was unaware of some key local and cultural issues and unprepared for a subsequent mediation. When legitimate disagreements turn into bad professional relationships, time and money are lost trying to work out problems.

Set realistic deadlines — and stick to them. Everyone has deadlines. If outside counsel start moving timelines or missing due dates, there’s a ripple effect throughout the client company. That makes the GC look unprepared or unable to manage processes — and the last thing you want to do is alienate your key point of contact (who is also usually the person who decides where to spend the company’s legal budget).

Know their business, inside and out. This means knowing more than what’s happening inside of your client company. You also need to know what’s happening in the industry and in relevant government agencies and legislative bodies. Read newspapers, industry journals and public filings, be active in industry groups and trade associations, and find out what’s bothering other GCs in the marketplace. Avoid making assumptions — ask your contact GC about what it’s like to run a legal department. Learn whether or not there are in-house talent gaps, and if there are specific cultural, management and other issues with which you can offer help and guidance. Ultimately, your job as outside counsel is to discover which issues are driving business and legal decision-making at the company.

Offer solutions, even before they know they have problems. GC’s appreciate attorneys who reach out to them and say, ‘Here’s an issue you should care about’ or ‘There’s a transaction you should consider.’ They don’t want to do the legal analysis; they want you to do it for them, in advance. GCs speak to each other, and over time you’ll get a reputation as a problem solver, and not as being just another person who is pointing out problems.

Add value to their department and their company. Offer free continuing legal education and executive training on issues that matter. Executives will often respond better to outside counsel offering suggestions or constructive critique. We all know that no one likes to be scolded by relatives, but we’ll listen to outsiders!  Similarly, technology interactions and handoffs should be seamless. And every pitch — whether a cold call or an RFP response — should spell out clearly the many ways in which you and your team can provide value in the GC’s world.

The work doesn’t stop when the project is complete. Post-engagement questionnaires, reviews, training and other activities demonstrate the outside counsel’s commitment to developing best practices. The results of such post-mortem analyses help build knowledge within a GC’s own department and throughout their companies.

Restrain costs, but keep quality high. GC’s draw on the skills of local counsel at smaller- and mid-sized firm pricing. Alternative fee arrangements should always be on the table; cost-effective, quality work will always be rewarded. GC’s are not against their law firms making money; they just want to avoid unnecessary spending on legal services.

Finally, remember to communicate. Outside counsel should be responsive and check in regularly to see how things are going with the client’s legal department and company.

Liftoff provides turnkey marketing support for sophisticated professional services firms, including many boutique law firms and healthcare technology consultancies. For more information, contact Wendy Horn at +1.612.770.6046 or at