A wholly subjective (but nonetheless definitive) guide to law firms from a $300m client on how to make a successful pitch*

In 2020, Teva Pharmaceuticals conducted a law firm selection process unprecedented in scale and sophistication within the profession (see ‘On notice: Teva’s entire $330m legal spend could go to one law firm’, The Legal 500, Summer 2019). Despite deploying ground-breaking quality vs cost correlation analysis, selection also involved the traditional panel interview meetings when two dozen of the world’s top law firms met Teva’s legal management team to pitch their propositions, with surprising and salutary results. The cutting-edge, data-driven selection methodology Teva used is well-founded (see ‘Harvard Law The Practice – Smarter Relationships in Legal Services’ November/December 2019) so instead, here are a dozen entirely unscientific but equally compelling approaches for winning business at the face-to-face selection stage. These findings are not the result of rigorous research, merely the bemused observations about what actually took place in these decisive meetings, ie, this stuff really happens.

1. There is no right number of attendees, just the right roles for each one

Every law firm representative should be relevant and impactful to the issues at hand, so if you need two, ten or 20 people to achieve this, that is the right number to attend. Clients aren’t impressed by sheer, mob-handed numbers as a proxy projection of a firm’s bench strength; a smaller number of attendees capable of answering every conceivable issue implies that the firm has bench depth and breadth in each lawyer. Every business likes lean efficiency and dislikes redundancy. The right number might be a bit more flexible in a virtual meeting but countless, silent, staring Zoom faces isn’t a great look either. And if you don’t know what the issues at hand will be, see seven and eight.

2. Know each other, yes, your own colleagues

In practice, clients benefit from a firm that is well-integrated and can cross-pollinate its expertise seamlessly between its lawyers. We know that not all partners are incentivised to cross-sell or collaborate, but at least be capable of speaking authoritatively about – at the very least – your other colleagues in the room… even though we saw you introducing yourselves to each other for the first time in the lobby. We’re a team so we notice teamwork and a fortiori its absence.

3. Decide each attendee’s respective role in the meeting

Feel free to tell us what the roles are up front and stick to them, unless you’re asked to do otherwise.

4. The ‘buzzword department’ may be obligatory for your firm but must be relevant to the meeting

We know that all of you now have an Innovation-Transformation-Agile-Blockchain-Shiny Object Office that may have been tacked onto your proposal because it is expected nowadays. We also know that they are largely peripheral to your partners’ practices, so if they aren’t pivotal to the issues at hand, leave your ‘nice-to-haves’ at home. Alternatively, make them pivotal and impactful, like it says on your website.

5. Don’t bad-mouth, laugh about or make any other pejorative implication about any other partner, practice area or region in your own firm

This surely requires no further elucidation, except this stuff really happens.

6. Representation vs tokenism

Don’t forget, if a client sees ten to 20 presentation teams, it’s not hard to spot a strategically consistent pattern of females and minorities in attendance. ‘Good cosmetics, good intentions and thanks for thinking about it, but if you also fail at one, two or nine, this will look like window-dressing a rather contrary pattern back at the ranch.

7. Know everyone on the other side of the table in detail

But don’t showboat that you’ve looked them up. In the privacy-free 21st century there is no excuse for not knowing relevant facts about every client attendee such that you can anticipate and reflect their potential areas of interest. Think of it like jury selection. Similarly, the business card exchange ritual shouldn’t include the polite obliviousness of ‘How interesting, I’d love to know more about who you are!’ And as a literal bonus round, any intelligence or understanding of what bonus targets the company executives are being financially incentivised on this year (ie, 10% revenue growth, 20% cost reduction, etc) will go a long way to shape a compelling message, however subliminal.

8. Know your own pitch and the client’s request for proposals. Backwards

There is at least one person on the client side who has read everything in encyclopaedic detail and for very good reason. If they have to refer you to a specific page or paragraph in your own pitch because you don’t know it automatically, it will not be lost on us that we had to read 40 responses while you only had one. On being unable to elaborate on several points in his firm’s pitch, a managing partner recused himself by proudly stating: ‘I have not read any of that document, it was written by someone else [see four], I’ve come here to talk to you about what we do, myself.’

9. Feel good statements require facts to back them up

The following exchange in this area was repeated without exception:

‘We pride ourselves on diversity and inclusion (or sustainability, social responsibility, etc as appropriate) as being central to how we do business.’

‘Great, so what are your statistics in terms of representation, by rank and so on?’

‘Well [looks down at documents] we don’t have the specific numbers here, but we can certainly provide them to you.’

‘And what are you doing in this area?’

‘We sponsor [random event/organisation] and have an [acronym] network. We recognise that we’ve got a long way to go but we are committed to… [and scene].’

Fact-free doesn’t feel good.

10. If you don’t know the answer to any question, beam it in during the meeting

By, say, having the otherwise-redundant attendees on call while the meeting is taking place (see one) or provide it to all the client attendees, not just the nuisance asking the question (see eight) by the end of the business day without fail.

11. Answer. The. Question.

Striking a friendly rapport, hyping the firm generally and doing the ‘It’s fundamentally a people business’ trope absolutely have a value and can never be discounted (see 12). But also delivering direct, exhaustive answers to questions posed cannot be overstated, duly punctuated with the empathetic safety net of: ‘Does that answer your question?’ It was posed for a reason of great importance to the individual and there’s no point in trying to weigh the relative influence of that person to the eventual decision: you will be wrong. An unambiguous response will be reassuring about the potential adviser relationship to follow.

12. Read. The. Room.

While it may be too much to ask top lawyers to be experts in human behavioural dynamics (although for several hundred million dollars it isn’t really), heightened awareness beyond oneself towards one’s fellow souls isn’t too much to ask for an hour or two. The sole female lawyer of colour sitting at the very end of a long row of attendees was asked to speak for the first time when the subject of diversity came up (see six) and was part-way through her perfectly lucid answer when her white male colleague blithely interjected: ‘I think what she’s saying is…’

The big question at the end of this, with a new law firms panel in place is how success is measured. As Trevor Faure says: ‘Contrary to the conventional approach of just driving down costs, the smarter law firm – client relationship defined in the RFP aims for a measurable win:win. Therefore success is higher law firm efficiency, proactivity and client satisfaction = better law firm profitability.’

*That firms really shouldn’t need but apparently do