In today’s competitive legal marketplace, law firms are increasingly using non-traditional methods to add value to client relationships and grow revenues. By looking "Inside," lawyers are developing revenue-generating, research-based products that complement their respective practice areas and enhance their relationships with clients. "Outside" their firms, lawyers are developing strategic alliances with consultants to further establish themselves as business advisors and increase the potential for future revenue. This article discusses some of the areas that are ripe for development.
Thanks to technology, law firms now have amazingly powerful tools to disseminate information to a global audience and provide revenue-generating products that are fast, easily accessible, and most important, useful for their clients. By working with law firm marketing personnel, attorneys should identify opportunities to turn their research and legal skills into a product or service that will also serve as a revenue source for the firm.
One of the most obvious areas where law firms can provide guidance is by helping organizations to educate their extended enterprise and train on compliance initiatives. Virtually all areas of law—antitrust, intellectual property, health care, government contracts, environmental, telecommunications—are ripe for an educational training product specific to their respective industry.
Furthermore, if the company has global operations, the task of training all employees around the world can be costly. Law firms have the ability to use their business/legal expertise to develop cost-effective and educational training products for their clients.
Once the type of training model is agreed on (e.g., EEOC compliance training, how to comply with environmental enforcement regulations), law firms can then develop a Web-based training product to deliver actionable knowledge for a per-user fee. Web-based training modules provide a platform to drive revenues, increase efficiencies and reduce costs by getting the right knowledge to the right people at the right time.
This type of e-learning includes a host of Internet-enabled learning events—from seminars and streaming media to real-time collaboration with the attorneys. Web-based training eliminates the cost-burdened production of materials by providing online accessibility and reduces time away from the office. If hosted on the firm’s Web site, it also provides additional exposure to the firm’s online platform of information. Most significant, law firms can assist their clients in educating entire enterprises in areas that affect business change.
Extranets are another quick, economical way for law firms to provide detailed, client-specific research. While the initial purpose of law firm extranets was to provide a platform for communicating client work product, extranets can be personalized for each individual client to include legal research tools such as: legal research databases and news reports; legal research "clipping" services; docket monitoring; and appellate and supreme court brief banks. By offering these research services for a fee, law firms are able to keep the lines of communication open with their clients, provide an added-value service, and again, create an additional source of revenue for the firm.
By establishing strategic alliances with outside consultants, law firms are able to expand their breadth of expertise and serve as business advisors to their clients. For the alliance to be truly effective, however, the law firm and outside consulting firm should have a symbiotic relationship—one in which the client feels comfortable and confident with both the law firm and the recommended consulting firm. It is therefore important for law firms to have extreme confidence with any outside consulting firm they recommend to their clients.
At the 2001 Attorneys’ Liability Assurance Society (ALAS) general meeting, the ethics panel talked about ancillary services provided by a separate firm of non-lawyer professionals in a strategic alliance relationship. A lawyer may not share legal fees with a non-lawyer, and a lawyer may not "give anything of value to a person for recommending the lawyers’ service" except in very narrow circumstances (ALAS Loss Prevention Journal, fall 2001, page 15).
However, rather than thinking of generating revenue through referral fees, law firms should recognize their ability to generate stronger relationships with their clients. By directing their clients to the relevant experts (albeit outside of their firm), lawyers can help clients meet business objectives, save money and increase revenue. A successful client is a happy client. What better way to foster stronger relationships with clients than by helping them achieve success? The payoff might not be immediate, but the long-term benefits of being seen as a trusted business advisor could have a significant, lasting impact on the relationship.
For instance, jury and trial consulting firms are natural partners for law firms as they share the same goal: to help clients win cases. Often, trial lawyers are faced with the challenge of explaining highly technical and intricate details to lay jurors with absolutely no background or understanding of the issues at hand. With the threat of multimillion-dollar jury verdicts, corporate counsel and their business clients want reassurance that their lawyers can successfully tell their story to a jury, regardless of the complexity of the case.
By developing strategic alliances with jury and trial consultants, law firms can offer their clients a wide variety of specific research and trial simulation tools. Also, these alliances can help reduce the risk of exposure and enhance the trial strategy. There are numerous firms around the country specializing in jury and trial consulting services, including FTI, Courtroom Sciences, DecisionQuest, FirmLogic, Litigation Strategies, Inc., Trial Consultants, Inc., and Jury Solutions, to name a few. These firms utilize research methods that include trial simulations, change-of-venue studies, jury selection, mock trials, and focus groups. All of these methods have limitations, but they can provide critical insight into how a jury may respond to case presentation.
Another way for law firms to bring added value to their clients is by taking the time to understand their business growth goals. By discussing the company’s business strategy with the general counsel and management team, lawyers can offer suggestions for helping them to meet their goals. For example, if a client is looking for a merger and acquisition partner, research and due diligence inevitably will be required. Recognizing that expansion is on their clients’ minds, law firms that form alliances with market research firms can provide sound, concrete advice and guidance from the start.
For example, FGI Research, a recognized leader in research and marketing services, has provided customized market research for several of the nation’s largest law firms and some of the world’s most successful companies. According to Mark Greene, FGI’s managing director: "We often conduct surveys for corporate clients as a sort of due diligence for potential acquisitions." In these situations, they interview clients/customers of the acquisition target in order to evaluate the satisfaction/loyalty of customers and thereby assess the equity of the relationships. Law firms that have established relationships with market research firms are better positioned to offer advice and help their clients obtain the necessary statistics and information prior to making a major business decision.
Crisis management/public relations is also an area where law firms are perfectly positioned to assist their clients. To deal effectively with a crisis, it is desirable to have a plan in place that includes a team of public relations or media consultants who know the company and its products; a law firm with similar knowledge; and, as appropriate, a team of both in-house and outside technical experts who can immediately address any concerns that arise. Key steps in any crisis-management process include gathering relevant information, assessing the impact, developing a response, and dealing with the aftermath, which may include litigation. Law firms that already have alliances in place with public relations firms are one step ahead of the game. When the need arises, they can immediately work with their clients on an effective crisis-management strategy.
Looking beyond the billable hour toward new alliances and ancillary products/services requires careful strategic analysis and a well-designed marketing plan. Firms must remember to evaluate their goals and intended results before embarking on a new path. Firm leaders must discuss the objectives: How will we generate revenue? Is this what our clients need/want? What is our long-term strategy, and do we have systems in place to keep it going? If developed correctly and with a purpose, these new offerings will enhance firm credibility, build stronger attorney-client relationships, and generate additional revenue for the firm.
Susan Jacobsen, the marketing director for Crowell & Moring LLP, has 10 years of experience spearheading marketing initiatives and business development campaigns for companies in the legal, hospitality, transportation and professional services industries. She can be reached at email@example.com.
A similar version of this article first appeared in the February 2002 issue of Strategies.