By: Sharon Berman
Published: The Daily Journal
A common thread running through surveys of corporate counsel is that managing legal risk is high on their list of concerns. Effectively communicating your understanding of risk’s components and demonstrating how you can help corporate counsel manage that risk is essential in attracting the attention of a potential new corporate counsel client, or reinforcing your relationship with an existing one. It’s also a key way to demonstrate that you understand the legal components as well as the business implications of that risk.
There is no common definition of “risk” among in-house counsel; it varies depending on parameters such as the industry, the technology, the practice area, and the size of the organization. Risk can include a litigation outcome, a counter lawsuit, or a public relations nightmare, but whatever the risk, it can be quantified in terms of expense. The value of your ability to avoid risk or its result directly correlates to the money you save your client.
It is also conceivable that in-house counsel will not be able to articulate what the specific risks are that you’ll be called upon to help avoid or mitigate. What may keep counsel awake at night is free-floating anxiety related to a broad range of business perils, including concern that the actual consequences of an important business or legal decision will not become clear until after the course of action has been decided and acted upon.
So, how do you market your business and legal risk acumen? How do you show in-house counsel that you can not only manage risk preemptively, but that you also have the ability to manage the outcome if the risk can’t be avoided?
There are essential steps to take. One of the first is putting your legal and industry expertise to work identifying what issues most general counsel in the industries you know are facing. Select one or two top industries in which you already have developed experience and expertise. Also, review Industry trade wWeb sites, newsletters and other material to make sure you’re covering all the bases.
Connect the dots. Unless you have performed risk analysis, due diligence, or avoidance/mitigation assignments for the target/client in the past, do not rely on your prospects to draw a line between their needs and your ability to be of service; you must make that connection.
The next step is to “package” and convey your abilities, expertise, experience and achievements in a way that resonates with your sophisticated target audience, and then “distribute” that package through constant and consistent communication. Your success in growing your practice will depend on how effectively you communicate your skills to your targets.
From dish detergent to legal services, everything that is offered for sale benefits from communicative packaging. Effective packaging will make a product stand out from similar offerings in the marketplace, conveying useful information about the product. Corporate counsels are knowledgeable buyers of outside legal services; they reject hyperbole and will ignore packaging that lacks valuable content. They are more likely to respond to your package if it is up to the level of sophistication and quality that matches the image and needs of their business and your qualifications.
Think about the quality and quantity of material you have to place in that package. Review recent transactions and think about them in terms of how your role minimized or managed risk. Did you analyze a company’s real estate portfolio with an eye toward identifying a gap that should be closed? Did you uncover and mitigate an existing or potential risk? While you were negotiating and documenting the sale of a client’s subsidiary, did you realize you had seen the same documentary loopholes in a previous transaction, and thus had the knowledge to mitigate or eliminate the potential risk? These are the types of transferable value-added skills that make the contents of your package worthwhile.
Once you have thought about the specifics, focus your attention to how you can extrapolate from a specific instance of transactional analysis or loophole identification into a topic with broader application across industry segments or even entire industries. You must communicate clearly that you understand and can work with corporate counsel across the full range of risk management – from risk identification and prevention to managing the outcome if the risk can’t be avoided.
Consider the words you use to communicate what you know, what you’ve done, and what you will do. The services you offer may have commonalities across industries, but describing how you add value may need to be couched in different terms for each target. For example: the phrase “real estate lease review” lacks both urgency and motivation, but “real estate risk minimization” is far more likely to resonate with an in-house counsel dealing with real property issues.
Once you have effectively described your services, the challenge shifts to reaching in-house counsel while distinguishing yourself from other attorneys, all of whom are seeking the same business. There is no magic process to doing this, just good old roll-up-your-sleeves marketing using carefully crafted marketing tools designed specifically for your targets.
The most productive way to efficiently and effectively market yourself to various in-house counsel is by focusing your efforts on one or more segments of the target market, whether by industry, size of company, geography or practice area. For example, you may be pursuing all in-house IP counsel in entertainment companies with revenues over $100 million in the Southwest U.S. Segmenting counsel this way will allow you to create a manageable target market and carefully tailor your marketing materials to the expectations of the target audience.
You’ll need to create a database of prospects that includes e-mail and ‘snail mail’ addresses. Creating your target database is a foundational step, one that is often overlooked or avoided. While database creation and updating takes research and time, you can’t effectively market without it. And, be sure to include your referral sources, such as attorneys who don’t do what you do, but who may be able to ‘refer you in.’
The first place a prospective client is likely to explore when evaluating a professional’s qualifications is the wWeb. You will want to create specific pages or even a different website describing how you can help corporate counsel manage and respond to risk. Relying on a firm’s general Web site to convey your risk management expertise is not as strong and clear as developing a separate page or two directly addressing the needs of corporate counsel and your ability to meet them.
Don’t stop with just a wWeb site; use the Internet to gain access to potential clients. Consider blogging or podcasting; review the respected blogs dealing with your target markets, then participate.
Another proven method to get the attention of prospective clients is by regularly sending out client alerts focused on recent legal updates and decisions in your areas of expertise. Don’t just report on the changes; provide some meaningful insight and analysis that highlights your risk identification and management skills.
Writing bylined articles is ar powerful way to establish credibility, especially when your articles are published by respected industry journals. Pitch topics to industry trade groups as well as to vehicles targeted at your corporate counsel targets. Don’t be afraid that you’ll give away your secrets of success. That’s the last thing you want to keep secret, since your buyers want to know why you are valuable; not merely that you are valuable.
Offering in-house and off-site legal seminars is also a useful marketing tool. Your effective presentation on the risks inherent in the industry will enhance your exposure as a legal risk manager and help insure that you are the ‘go-to’ person to manage that businesses’ risk.
Don’t forget industry conferences or organizations that focus on your industries of expertise. Begin networking; look for those conferences that attract in-house counsel and other prospective client types.
Finally, recognize the fact that there is ‘no finally.’ The successful marketing of your risk management skills is not limited by time, nor is it self-perpetuating. Constant attention, either by yourself or outside professionals, is required to build and maintain momentum.
Today, in-house counsels are facing an ever-expanding array of risks. They are expected to identify these legal and business risks in advance, and to evaluate them from both a legal and business perspective. To have the edge, outside risk advisors need to communicate their understanding of the in-house counsel’s needs and position, as well as being able to communicate how they will help to effectively manage current and potential risks.
Sharon Berman is principal of Berbay Marketing & PR, a marketing consulting firm specializing in working with professional services firms. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The firm’s website is www.berbay.com.