Large corporate clients are the white whale of law firm client lists. In fact, I’ve seen law firms who maintain thriving businesses simply by virtue of being the go-to regional litigation team for one or two select corporate clients.
Imagine having a practice where you didn’t have to engage in endless business development because one client gave you more business than you could handle.
It’s one thing to land those clients (fodder for another article, for sure). It’s quite another to keep them happy once you’re on retainer.
In the final part of our 3-part series on keeping different litigation clients happy, we’re discussing large corporate clients. These are the Nikes, Firestones, and Costcos of the world.
Serving these clients is an entirely different world than serving individual or small-firm clients.
Let’s dive in, shall we?
You have to be the best and play to win
Here’s the truth about large corporate clients.
On any given day, their legal department has hundreds of law firms clamoring for their business. They also have shareholders who are awfully interested in the itemization of your legal bills and the results your firm delivers.
So, if you want to keep a large corporate client happy, keep their shareholders happy.
Don’t overcharge and underdeliver.
Don’t make the predictable mistakes that other outside counsel make.
If you do, you’ll quickly lose out to one of those other firms who are desperate to replace you.
Respect the in-house legal department
In part 2 of this series, we spoke about in-house lawyers working at small businesses.
Note that everything we said in that article goes out the window when we talk about big business corporate counsel.
In-house lawyers with large corporate clients tend to be the best of the best. They graduated at the top of their classes from Ivy League law schools, they likely have an MBA, and some have even held positions with important public agencies like the SEC.
In other words, they are sophisticated and smart.
They don’t need to be schmoozed, they need to be impressed.
Unlike the small business in-house lawyer who may be facing the legal issue you’re handling for the first time, in-house attorneys at large corporations have seen just about every legal issue at least a hundred times.
They understand that in some respects, your work on a case is marketing.
If you advise them to settle quickly, for example, that may send the message to thousands of other potential plaintiffs that the company will throw them a few thousand bucks just to get rid of lawsuits.
If, on the other hand, you play litigation hardball in every single case, you may earn the company the reputation of being a bully.
Understanding the PR value of your work is invaluable to the large corporate client. Communicate openly and discuss the potential long-term repercussions of each and every decision.
Stay involved with company news
When you represent large corporate clients, you have to understand the ins and outs of their business.
There’s nothing more embarrassing than being 10 minutes into a phone call with the General Counsel when she realizes you aren’t aware the company is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission –— something that hit the airwaves yesterday.
Securities and Exchange Commission –— something that hit the airwaves yesterday.
But embarrassment is the least of your worries; this is actually a good way to lose your client.
The easy way around this is to set up Google Alerts or appoint a member of your team to scour the internet each day for news pertaining to the company. That way, you’ll always be prepared for that discussion with the GC.
Use the client’s products, NOT their competitors’
If your client manufactures anything, you need to use that thing. And you need to use it in an obvious way.
This means that if you are working with a large sporting goods manufacturer, for example, you wear their shoes to every meeting. It also means that if you wear a competitor’s shoes in any setting where you’re around your clients, you can likely kiss your retainer goodbye.
Does this seem harsh? Think about it from their perspective.
You’re representing their interests, both in their office and outside of it. If you publicly consume products from a competitor, that sends a message that you openly support a competing business over your client.
That’s fuel for those competitors to say something like “Company XYZ’s product is so bad that even their lawyer uses our stuff instead!”
Talk about a PR problem.
I witnessed this first hand when I worked in-house for a large brewer.
An outside lawyer, surely wanting to feel like a “cool craft beer guy,” came to a meeting at our corporate headquarters wearing another brewery’s t-shirt.
The fact that he wore a t-shirt to a corporate meeting wasn’t the problem.
The fact that he was advertising for a competitor was a huge problem.
Long story short, we didn’t retain him.
Have your technology dialed in from the get-go
Finally, large corporate clients don’t have time to wait for you to figure out how to effectively operate in a digital world.
Before you ever interview with these clients, you need to have things like digital privacy, electronic discovery, and electronic complex case management already figured out.
Again, if you’re not ready to play in a modern environment, there are 100 lawyers behind you who are ready to give the large corporate client a seamless litigation experience.
An investment in your information technology now can pay huge dividends with corporate clients in the long run.
Keeping your corporate clients satisfied
Large corporate clients will be some of the best clients you’ll ever have.
They tend to pay their bills, provide highly talented people for you to work with, and have no shortage of litigation matters to keep you busy.
Consequently, the time and money you spend to keep these folks happy are some of the best investments your firm will ever make.