I kept hearing the same phrase over and over. I was attending the LMA New England Conference in Boston last week, in the audience at the program "Understanding What Drives Corporate Counsel." Again and again the panel of corporate general counsel delivered the same message:
"Learn my business If you want me to retain you."
I've been hearing GCs saying this for years. It is not an indication that GCs have nothing new to say. It's a sign that lawyers and law firms have not been listening for years. It's basic Marketing 101: know your customer's business, inquire about their business needs, and offer to help them. But it's not getting through to the legal profession.
"Learn my business before you come to my office to present a dog and pony show. If you talk to me about your firm but it’s not what I need, the conversation is over in 5 minutes," said Emily D. Dickinson, Senior Vice President & General Counsel of Hannaford Bros. Co., a retail supermarket company.
Echoing the point, Eric I. Cohen, Senior Vice President & General Counsel of Terex Corporation, said, "Sometimes a law firm will come to my company and they haven’t’ even looked at our Web site, learned who my management is, or learned what products we make. They’re sending a message to me that they don’t care about my business." Terex makes mining trucks and excavators.
"The better RFP proposals I receive are not boilerplate. The law firm has made an effort to know my business. The proposal is more than just their resumes right off the Web site; instead, they list similar kinds of work the lawyers have done to match the RFP," said Gregory B. Butler, Senior Vice President & General Counsel of Northeast Utilities, which is New England's largest utility system, providing electricity to more than 1.7 million people.
"I want to have a law firm partner who shares my dreams and expectations, shares my ups and downs, and shares my goal in making my company successful. We’re going to be joined at the hip," Butler continued. "I measure responsiveness, quality of work and knowing my business."
There you have it: this is the key to getting new business from corporations. Find out what products and services your target offers, inquire into the business needs and then offer to help. Bingo: you've opened a new file.
The session was moderated by John Lipsey, the new VP of Corporate Counsel Services for LexisNexis.