Business Development Client Relations Marketing

In-house counsel tell all

I had the good fortune to attend a panel discussion today held by the LMA Vancouver Chapter on How Public Sector Counsel Select Their Outside Counsel.

It was a dynamite session. Paul Reynolds of 2nvision consulting moderated the discussion.  He spoke with three public sector in-house counsel on the factors influencing their retention of external counsel, what distinguishes the great lawyers they have worked with, and why they fire some firms.

Doug Jasinki, from Skunkworks Creative, and I are developing a five minute podcast with highlights from session for posting to the LMA Vancouver website.  In the meantime here’s a brief excerpt from my notes on the session:

The best lawyers are:

  • Responsive.  They are prompt and respond in a timely manner to requests.
  • Pragmatic.  They work the file appropriately.
  • Aware of context.  They repeatedly invest in learning about the organization, not just for the initial sales call, and are sensitive to the organization’s particular requirements
  • Team players.  They work closely with in-house counsel, communicate well, and keep counsel well apprised of what is going on in a file
  • Flexible.  They are able to work at odd hours and on short notice when  necessary.
  • Pleasant to deal with!  They are well mannered, and treat their clients with respect.

Listening between the lines today it seemed to me that the panelists had experienced some atrocious examples of bad client service.  Here’s my take on the five easy ways to get fired:

  1. Don’t meet deadlines.  If the client requests the Opinion for their very important meeting at 2:00 pm then hand it in at 4:00 pm. 
  2. Communicate with the client as little as possible.  Keep them in the dark.  Don’t keep them updated on the file.  If nothing happens on the file for weeks or months, you don’t have to contact them! Better to just let them wonder what is going on.
  3. Bill the client for the friendly chat you had with them on the phone.
  4. The client is a public agency and under public scrunity, but who cares?! Advocate as aggressively and sharply as possible, regardless of any negative media fallout.
  5. Be as arrogant as possible.  When the CEO enters the room don’t stand up, don’t shake his hand.  Turn up late for meetings and act like you are doing everyone a favour for being there.

The panelists were refreshingly candid and many of us left with a stack of notes on such topics as how to structure your business development approach, how to respond to RFPs, how to stand out as great counsel, and what are the most effective marketing tools.

The feedback I am hearing about the event has been overwhelmingly positive.  As one lawyer concluded, it was great to have the opportunity to get “find out the answers to those questions that lawyers typically don’t have the guts to ask!” (Guts is my word.  He used a more descriptive one!)

About the author

Allison Wolf

I am the founder of AWAL and one of the most senior coaches for lawyers in North America. I have helped countless clients over the past fifteen years, develop thriving legal practices and before that served as director of marketing for award-winning law firms. My specialty is uncovering the thinking traps and gaps holding clients back and helping them acquire the mindsets, skills, and habits for growing successful and rewarding legal careers. After a career in legal marketing and business development with law firms in Beijing, New York, and Vancouver, I was trained as a coach in 2004 at Royal Roads University and now coach clients from across North America. You can reach me at or learn more about my coaching practice from the coaching section of the Attorney With A Life Website.