Someone’s Got a Crush on Professional Services Providers But it Ain’t the General Counsel: Big Law and the Fight to Stay Attractive

As published in the October 25, 2021 edition of The Recorder

Unimagined supply chain challenges, scarce human resources and worrisome fallout from the inflation squeeze have corporate chief financial officers feeling vulnerable. When people feel vulnerable they look for comfort and support. Thankfully, for global CFOs, they can get the love they seek through sophisticated advisory services provided by the Big Four accounting firms. Be it support in auditing, cost segregation studies, internal controls, tax strategies, or transfer pricing and other needed services, quick responses and forward-looking strategies via a vast network of experts situated across the globe are theirs for the asking. Many a CFO and audit committee are batting their eyes fondly at this broad mix of providers ready to answer questions and solve problems, all at an agreed upon fixed fee.

While the Big Four may be getting sweet notes in their locker about the upcoming prom and what to wear to the big dance, global law firms are sitting by the phone, making doodles around their firms’ logos and listing their wonderful credentials over and over and over again, dreaming that the general counsel of their favorite corporation will see how cute and smart they are and maybe call them tonight, tomorrow, or surely by the weekend. After all, the GC and the gang in legal operations have always called before. Everybody who is anybody has always known that the law firm is totally GOAT. Besides, they have to call because only the law firm can offer certain legal services that the corporation can’t get anywhere else. And anyway, other service providers are really busy right now so they’ll have to settle on the law firm. Right?

Law firms must realize that someday soon, the phone could stop ringing. Law firms must also acknowledge the growing influence of the CFO on procurement decisions and that they are now being studied through a new microscope. Clearly the wandering eye of the suitor, be it the CFO’s or the GC’s, is influenced by what is happening in Europe and the Big Four’s push into the legal services market. The scope of services the accounting firms can now offer keeps broadening beyond tax strategies and is cutting into global law firm transactional and employment offerings with integrated solutions that are easily leveraged by most businesses. If your client is meeting with other advisors and telling you that “it didn’t mean anything,” you can bet it meant everything.

The pandemic brought out the best in many service providers; legal, accounting, healthcare, and otherwise but some were more helpful to society, business, and the crisis in general than others. It was uncomfortable to watch the slick and expensive videos produced by a few Am Law 100 firms boasting of their ability to pivot from working in the office to working from home. Didn’t most industries do this with relative ease? We are not impressed that employees have access to laptops and electricity and have mastered the Zoom call. This “look what we did” take on the pandemic is illustrative of the legal industry’s go-to-market mindset. It’s still more about “who we are” and not enough about the corporations and industries they serve. These kinds of missteps add up and make law firms look less attractive to those who are shopping for a good mate.

But your firm wants to stay in the game. To enhance appeal and bask in the love you see shared between a CFO and a global accounting firm consider the following:

1. Get on a self-improvement kick.

2. Rethink your firm’s beauty squad.

3. Develop crushes of your own.

Read, Grow, Learn: Self-improvement Is Your New Hobby

Someone is staring at you in personal growth. It’s a great line from “When Harry Met Sally” and Harry was indeed reading up on how to improve himself because he was in the middle of a divorce. You may not personally need some of the silly self-help books on the market today, but reading about the professional services industry, and particularly what your friendly competitors in the Big Four are doing to support clients, can’t hurt. How many consultants and auditors do you have in your LinkedIn network? Increase the amount of connections you have in this field and read the content they publish that relates to the industries you serve. You will learn about new techniques and trends. Follow the Big Four’s content pages and attend the occasional webinar related to a problem you believe a client is facing. You may also want to read books on B2B selling techniques and advances in knowledge transfer methods.

Who Is Helping You Look Good?

There is nothing like a new haircut or new clothes to make a person feel better. While law firms spend an enormous amount of money on marketing departments and often joke that proposals are simply “beauty contests” they rarely look in the mirror to see what their “stylists” have actually done for them. Marketing may have done wonders with the logo, website colors, and even sophisticated social media content strategy but you also need to mimic the attraction techniques of the Big Four. These tricks go beyond flirting and boasting about credentials to creating real bonds with clients. Client care processes to borrow from include setting up communication protocols with new clients, monitoring client service delivery, modifying the service team pursuant to critical feedback, and continually offering anticipatory guidance on mitigating risk or cutting costs. Instead of only hiring professionals familiar with law firm marketing, it may be time to make space for savvy account executives from the Big Four. These professionals can help you develop client-facing methods that will strengthen your understanding of consultative selling skills and how to increase client loyalty.

Fall in Love with the Client

Whether someone interests you or not, it is always flattering when another person is curious about your background or hobbies. Exploratory conversations should be mutual and, as the seller, it is your responsibility to ask the right questions and understand enough about the prospect to uncover needs or guide the conversation towards trends and anticipatory challenges. You need to demonstrate to the prospect that you are interested in their business, their industry, and their success. It helps when you have a true respect for the company or their culture. I believe this admiration shows up in the eyes or gestures and sets the tone for a mutually rewarding business partnership. I have seen, first-hand, opportunities blown because a service provider did not seem enthusiastic, engaged, or enamored. If you don’t like your clients, find new ones. You should love what you do and enjoy who you work with.

Your client’s CFO and GC work together. They compare notes. They may be whispering about you. Make sure the gossip is good.

Reprinted with permission from the October 25, 2021 issue of The Recorder (C) 2021, ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.