When I ask a group of lawyers why they get hired, I usually get one of these default answers:
- “We’ve worked with them before.”
- “They trust us.”
- “We have the resources they expect.”
- “We are great lawyers at a great firm.”
Yes, and no. Clients hire lawyers that can say all of the above. But clients hire lawyers for one primary reason: They have a problem they can’t solve without outside counsel’s help.
And when they think about who to hire, being top of mind usually has little to do with experience, prestige or the name on the firm door. The vast majority of work is assigned to the firm that can answer yes to all of the following questions:
- Do they understand my business?
- Can they solve my problem?
- Will they make me look good?
- Do I like working with them?
Just last week I again heard a version of this list when talking to a general counsel about why her company hired a specific lawyer (not a firm). She said, “I need a business partner and to be a business partner. They have known me, my needs, our business and what success looks like.” She added that over time and as circumstances change, the answers or criteria evolve.
Last week in this space, we shared the value of a speed networking exercise. At a recent firm meeting where I led a small group of lawyers through a speed networking exercise, we prepared for what they would discuss by having each of the lawyers in the room answer the following questions:
- What do you do that clients value that doesn’t show up on the bill?
- Why would a client choose you over a similar competitor?
- What do you do differently from other lawyers that makes your clients’ lives easier?
By focusing on these questions, you move past the concept of “great lawyer, great experience, great firm” when describing why you get hired. This is a relationship business, and when there are a lot of choices out there, you have to work that much harder. Fortunately, clients are happy to tell you what to do to nurture a successful relationship. As we often say, you just have to ask.