Referrals from big law firms. They’re the holy grail for lawyers with a specialized practice area commonly handled by large firms, or for big law expatriates who often aim to build a practice out of more price sensitive clients who can no longer afford big law rates.
Yet generating big law referrals isn’t as easy as it seems, particularly when working in competing areas. Whereas once, cost and conflicts drove referrals from big law to solo and small firms, these days, big firms are cutting rates and loosening up their definition of “conflicts” to hold on to clients that they’d once have sent to other firms. In addition, many large firms may hesitate to refer a large client to a small firm, either due to concern that the firm lacks the resources to handle the case or suspicion that the solo lawyer’s departure from big law may not have been voluntary.
Although there’s not much that’s been written on this phenomenon in the legal profession, recently I came across this piece by Dan Schoenbaum, CEO of Redbooth entitled How A David Can Partner With Goliath. Although on closer scrutiny, Schoenbaum’s piece offers tips on how a startup can sell to, rather than partner with a multi-million dollar conglomerate, some of the advice is equally applicable.
The first tip – understand that it’s not about you. That means that before you try to partner with or sell to a large company, you must seek first to understand them. So when you pitch yourself as a potential referral partner to big law,take the time to figure out what their needs are. For example, is the firm looking for lawyers to take on smaller, more general practice matters for its clients – such as criminal defense, employment, divorce law or estate planning? If those practice areas aren’t your bailiwick, you may want to introduce your big law contact to another solo colleague. By contrast, if the firm represents clients on matters that you specialize in, but only in federal courts, the firm may need someone like you to take on state court matters. Once you figure out what the firm’s needs are, you can begin to strategize about how you can best help.
Next, Schoenbaum says that Davids must “Commit to solving real-world problems” for Goliaths.
Your partner may need to get into a new market. They may want to penetrate a new vertical. Maybe they want to get to market faster. You’ve got to understand which specific real-world problems keep them awake at night and how you can directly solve that problem.
These are certainly areas where a creative firm could help directly – for example, by offering to draft a white paper on these emerging areas, or to team up with a big firm on matters in these new markets.
Finally, it all comes down to relationships. Whether you worked with the big law partner for seven years, or if you’re just being introduced, you’ve got to find ways to stay in touch. Calling a big firm partner once a year to ask if there’s any new business isn’t likely to yield results. Instead, invite your big law contacts to lunch or drinks. Put them on your newsletter list and forward them interesting tidbits of information. If they post something on LinkedIn, acknowledge it or comment on it. Ultimately, the best way to win business from any client big or small is to focus on the personal touch. As Schoenbaum says – there are no shortcuts that can compare to “good old-fashioned paying attention and putting someone else’s interests first.”
Have you had luck in winning referrals or other work from big law? If you’re willing, please share your secrets in the comments below.