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When new market sectors and growth opportunities emerge, a number of firms scramble
to set-up, beef-up, or redefine their area of practice in an effort to position themselves as the "go-to" firm. Armed with more clout and a fatter wallet the large established firms are likely to find it easier to dominate the field. They are often already perceived as major players in related areas. As one of the practice group leaders from Milbank Tweed explained it: "It's not that we're better lawyers, it's just that we get to bat in Yankee Stadium more often."
How do you compete against these established players with their larger practice groups?
You should always be looking for ways to enhance your expertise by serving the needs of your existing clients - those who already trust you; increase the number of professionals by laterally hiring the right talent to build "bench strength"; or find the means to network with other small players from around the country.
But in the interim you are likely to confront the spoken or unspoken resistance: "Your fairly small and not known for having any expertise in this area, why should we take a chance with you or your colleagues?"
How you respond to doubts about your practice group's future can determine whether your practice group has a future.
-.Convert your existing clients into glowing testimonials.
Break the barrier of newness. Your existing clients already trust and respect your capabilities. Offer them concessions in exchange for endorsements. In return for those concessions have your client agree to take calls from prospects.
- Provide the assurance of personal attention.
Clients are not happy when their important matters are handed-off to other partners they don't know well or to more junior professionals on the team. Provide assurances to the prospective client that they will always be dealing with you and have your continual involvement as the relationship manager.
- Bring an outside expert to your side of the table.
Recruit a recognized expert when it's needed. Many
of the large accounting and consulting firms are masters at this. Look older and wiser by bringing in an acknowledged academic, retired industry executive, or some other luminary as a consultant to supplement the resources of your team.
- Target only one discrete aspect of the transaction.
Partner with another firm who brings a different but complimentary competence to the transaction and then offer the defined expertise of the two firms to get the job done.
- Offer a limited-risk initial engagement.
Propose a smaller test matter or only a part of the total transaction. Work on a value-based fixed fee. Some of your larger competitors may not want to stray from a billable hour position.
- Offer the client a guarantee.
Remove the risk. Assure the potential client that if they are not completely satisfied you will reduce your fees accordingly; then take steps to ensure that your client won't need to exercise their guarantee.
- Add a personal touch.
Turn your practice group's small size into an advantage. Show the client how you structure your work so that every client receives maximum attention. Emphasize how you don't have to cover excessive overheads: multiple offices, large administrative support, partner perks - so the client is getting value and results with minimum overhead. Demonstrate how you can respond to requests quickly without delays and unknown people at the other end of the telephone.
Finally, don't be caught off guard defensively trying to explain how your team "can do it better, faster and cheaper". These defensive reactions have never been reassuring to clients. Instead, trying taking an offensive position to detail why your practice team may be the better choice for this particular client's unique transaction and needs. It is incumbent upon you to position your strengths so that adult, intelligent clients might be reassured to engage your services.
© Copyright 2000. Patrick J. McKenna