Visibility Key to Gaining New Clients in Tough Market

, The Legal Intelligencer

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Editor's note: This article is the first part of a series on getting business in a difficult legal market.

How can a law firm find new clients in a business climate where demand for legal services has dwindled and corporate counsel tend to favor sticking with the outside firms they already use? The answer is probably familiar to anyone who's ever braved their first day at a new school: Get out there and make friends.

But that's only the beginning, because once a firm has a potential client's ear, it must be up to the challenge of persuading in-house counsel to take a bit of a risk, attorneys said.

"There's the old adage that it's expensive to change accounting firms and there's some truth with respect to law firms as well," said Barry F. Levin, managing partner of Philadelphia-based Saul Ewing, of corporate counsel's aversion to the less familiar.

Levin added, however, that, even with the recent decrease in legal demand, there are more opportunities than ever before for firms that do great work for competitive rates.

Law firm consultant Jeff Coburn agreed, saying that, as in-house legal department budgets continue to dwindle, corporate counsel are finding themselves increasingly in need of outside firms that can provide value and more willing to look beyond their stable of familiar standbys to find them.

The problem is in-house legal departments are often too busy to really research which firms they're not already using in a particular practice area or geographic region would be best suited to their needs, according to Coburn.

"They don't know who to use," Coburn said. "They don't have any type of list. I know because they admit it."

Similarly, companies don't always even realize they could be getting better value from their outside counsel, according to Coburn.

That's where the responsibility falls to firms to get on the radars of potential clients and find ways to prove their mettle, or at least make a case for why they deserve a shot, Coburn said.

But being seen by prospective clients involves some groundwork.

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