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LP Magazine – Wild Pitches: Law Firms Often Miss the Strike Zone

LPcover_JulyAugust2019-237x300In the nearly 20 years that I’ve run my law marketing consultancy, HTMLawyers, there are few things I enjoy more than the in-person pitch. For me, those pitches are always at law firms, and often are delivered to a variety of audiences—a few select attorneys, a management committee, or marketing committee. But I always feel like if I have the opportunity to describe my services and offerings “live” that I have a great chance of getting the business.

Of course, I also find from time to time that those opportunities are not real. Some firms are just looking for free advice, others are looking to get a better price out of their current providers, and some really have no idea what they are looking for (but it is not what I’m selling). While I never hesitate to spend out-of-pocket travel and time on a pitch invite that sounds viable, I still feel a bit deflated when I quickly realize I was wasting my time. But that goes with the territory. On the flip side, there are pitches that I thought were a waste of time and turned out to be quite lucrative. Yet others did not pay off at that moment in time, but many years later. In some cases, declining the invite–which I did not too long ago from an Am Law 200 law firm—can be the smartest move yet. You just know it is a loser. So you don’t waste your billable time and money on something that was not going to be profitable.

Just this week I was preparing one of my law firm clients for a huge pitch opportunity at a Fortune 100 company. In reviewing the correspondence between the in-house legal department and the law firm, I was as excited about it as if it was me doing the pitching. Because I know that getting in the door to sit down with corporate counsel and pitch a law firms’ services is as good as it gets in business development. Yet I continue to be amazed how many law firms blow it…and that is the subject for my marketing column in the July/August 2019 issue of the ABA Law Practice Magazine, Wild Pitches: Law Firms Often Miss the Strike Zone.

Before I even had the chance to write this blog post, an in-house counsel from a Fortune 100 company sent me an e-mail to say he read this column and that it was spot-on—“I could not agree with you more.” The column details how law firms fail to take full advantage of these plum opportunities to put their best foot forward with the ultimate prize in marketing to corporate counsel—face time.

One memory that comes to mind takes me back to one of my very first serious pitches—in 2001—and realizing that I was one little horse in a day-long dog-and-pony show at a law firm. I saw one group of presenters in the big conference room before me, and another group after. There were presenters with three to four people along for the ride—usually a good mix of male and female, younger and older, all dressed to the nines. There were slick, glossy handouts. And super cool power point presentations. I was…me…just me…no other presenters. There were no glossy handouts and no slide deck at all. But I had something that was able to shine through—substance—and that was enough to win the day. There may have been some third parties that privately put in a good word too (which may even beat “substance” from time to time), but explaining and describing what you were really going to deliver was the most important part of the pitch.

So many law firms fail to lead with substance. They worry more about a slick slide deck than providing the data that can win the business. Or a mostly auto-generated pitch book full of fluff and seen quickly by the recipients as pretty cookie-cutter. The presentation leads with more fluff—meaningless accolades and promises of amazing resources that are supposed to blow away the competition. There is not enough customized research and information specific to the prospective client. The presentation needs to be truly customized and tailored to the opportunity at hand. It needs to be about what will impress the audience, not what the law firm thinks impresses the audience—often two wholly different things. Now I’d be remiss if I did not throw out there that not every legal department is sophisticated. Some are impressed by fluff, or unable to truly identify substance when it comes their way. But let’s assume those are in the minority, and you probably don’t really want that legal work anyway.

As I write in the column, there is nothing better than having the chance to pitch. Be sure to make the most of it.