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ARK Group delegates told: ‘Spend time with potential customers, not other lawyers’

Law firms will not maintain a client base if they treat clients as transactions

22 June 2015

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By John van der Luit-Drummond, Deputy Editor, Solicitors Journal (@JvdLD)

Lawyers need to learn that prospective corporate clients will only pick them for business if they like them, an expert in executive searches has said.

Speaking at a recent ARK Group - in conjunction with Managing Partner - event, 'Growth Strategies in Legal Services', Andrew Garner, chairman of executive search firm Garner International, told a room full of corporate lawyers: "In a commoditised marketplace how do you sell yourselves? Spend time with customers, not other lawyers."

Garner, who has helped fashion the make-up of boardrooms across Europe, Asia and the US, explained that when undertaking executive searches for corporations he found that his clients would pick the candidate they liked best, as everyone on the shortlists were more than qualified for the role.

"Yet they always rehearse what they are going to say. Why?" questioned Garner. "You don't know who your competitors are. The same applies to law.

"There is no point pitching for business in Singapore if you don't have an office there. Business development has nothing to do with law. You might as well have a market stall in Borough market. Clients in a competitive situation choose the people they like the best."

He continued: "Don't tell clients what they already know, tell them what they don't know. The person who wins business need not be the best lawyer in town. They may be the person that your competitors may not see coming."

"To compete effectively in a commoditised marketplace you need to promote your difference. You have to identify what is in your practice what is different to the people you compete with, now and in the future," he added.

'Stratospheric' legal fees

Garner also had some tough love for the assembled lawyers by referencing the issue of high legal fees for corporate work.

"M&A fees are stratospheric," he said. "The only way firms get away with it is because of the ego of the owner and seller. They don't care about a few million here and a few million there."

However, Garner added: "Please don't charge me £350 to £500 an hour for a junior to do a page turn. Do I object to £300 per hour? No, because the transaction is important, but not for a page turn. Law firms are not going to maintain their client base if they treat their clients on a transactional basis. Treat me as a relationship, not a transaction.

"I don't mind spending £10,000 per hour for value added advice, but I'm not going to be ripped off by someone trying to keep up with their other partners."

Referencing a recent theory that the legal profession is being reshaped by new automotive technologies - leading to the suggestion by some that robot lawyers will soon be taking over - Garner said: "You need to look at tech as an advantage. If your paradigm is going to be robotised, are you going to take advantage or suffer from it? I would be worried about it. The competitive landscape is not going to be about law."

First published in sister publication Solicitors Journal.

 

 

 

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