It was Thanksgiving weekend of 1974 and I was in the Detroit suburbs for a wedding when it happened. It was one of those monumental snowstorms that nobody predicted resulting in 22-26 inches of snow that caught everybody unexpectedly. To put that into perspective, the snowplows never got out during the storm. The plows never got out the day after the storm, and they didn’t get out the following day either. Neighbors in the subdivision I was staying in banded together to dig each other out, and eventually to actually dig their streets out too,
It was one of those rare circumstances where people miraculously band together to fight a common enemy, in this case, it was the snow. Once of the byproducts of these situations is increased camaraderie and brotherhood. Every night a different house in the subdivision hosted a party during this weeklong debacle. People commiserated and listened to each other’s stories of woe or humor over significant amounts of alcohol.
It was at these impromptu parties I met an aging litigator who never failed to regale me with his stories. To be a successful litigator, one must be a good or great storyteller. He was charismatic and could hold his liquor. In one instance he regaled me about a short-term summer job he held during his undergrad years.
I was working for the leading vacuum cleaner salesman in the state. I’ll never forget the first day he picked me up for work. He was driving this years’ top of the line Cadillac convertible with 3 new vacuums cleaners in the trunk and a big Cuban cigar sticking out of the corner of his mouth (it was the early 60’s) When I climbed in the passenger seat he looked over at me and asked “what are we going to do today?” Like he was my drill sergeant I hollered out “SELL VACUUM CLEANERS!!!!!!”
My reply stopped him in his tracks and his eyes dropped down. He turned slowly towards me, looked into my eyes recognizing me for the sales charlatan I was and said slowly, “No, we are going to get in the house.”
So today’s message in a roundabout way is “Subject Matter Expertise (SME) is what gets you in the door.”
The similarities between Law Firm Business Development and what I did in marketing Expert Witness/Forensic Engineering services is eerily similar. Let’s start with the fact in both instances you are attempting to sell to people who don’t want to be sold. Then in both instances, if you are a defense attorney or a subrogation attorney, it is a takeaway business. Somebody already has that business and you are going to have to take it away from them.
Like much of life, timing is everything. The time to approach a potential defense client isn’t after they just had a 100% defense verdict. SPOILER ALERT: NOBODY breaks up a winning team. Look for the opening. Sadly for them, there is nothing better for you than a huge verdict against a prospective potential client you have on your radar.
In my past life, if I knew of a local case in play at a client I wanted to work with (bless you Law Bulletin) First I would determine the lead attorney, and start out by emailing a peer reviewed paper authored by one of my experts that was on point to the defense attorney. I would not attempt to sell at all in that email. My wording was usually something like “I saw the Jones v. Johnson case and felt this peer reviewed paper covers the key case issue and may be helpful to you.” Sometimes just that small gesture would result in the defense attorney calling me and asking to meet with my expert. Subtle, but effective. The more complex, technical, and/or unique the case issue, the more value SME brings to the table. It’s a way of creating instant “street cred.”
If you are going to hunt big game you have to do your due diligence about their litigation history so you can come off as intuitive when and if you finally get the opportunity to meet face-to-face. There are so many databases, web sites, and other on-line resources out there to research the types of cases your prospective client needs to defend and their past successes and failures. There are colleagues you may know who are familiar with how past cases went down and can give you insight that can’t be found in a database or a verdict reporter. Collect whatever info you can if you plan to seriously pursue this prospective client. Become familiar with the testifying experts they have used and how well they did or didn’t do in deposition and on the stand. Be familiar with the plaintiff’s experts as well.
Knowing previous trial strategy the firm has used is helpful but has a potential downside to it. Be careful here, if you bad mouth a specific strategy used in a losing case, it may have been crafted by the very GC you are meeting with in hopes of landing their business. I’m not saying this isn’t a topic for discussion, I’m saying this is a topic for future discussion after you have hopefully landed the business.
So let’s go back to Subject Matter Expertise. So how do you as an attorney demonstrate SME?
If you or your firm has a white paper, or a write-up of a successful experience handling a key issue in a similar case, this is a perfect intro to dangle in front of your prospect. If you are knowledgeable on the issue craft a personal email and also try to stay away from any kind of sales pitch. This demonstrates you have invested time (which is the one thing that we all have the least of, including your prospective client); you’ve done your homework, and are worthy of future consideration.
One of the things to keep in mind when you are hunting big game is patience. Too many people try and force the process and make it fit their time frame. They forget that this isn’t about them – it is about the client. The last thing I am going to leave you with about the “sales cycle” is: there can be a time when you have done everything you can do and given the client everything they requested to evaluate you and your firm and no decision has come down? I find it interesting that nobody in America can sit there and “do nothing” at that point. EVERYBODY thinks you have to do SOMETHING. Many sales are blown by annoying the client during their crucial decision making process. If you have done your best, maintain your dignity and don’t appear desperate. No matter how it plays out the client will respect you and your firm for it.
If Insurance Defense is your sweet spot, I am going to give you a free starting point for you 2016 Business Development efforts. If you go to our site http://Legal-metrix.com and click on “Defense Firms” the first tab on the scroll down menu is Insurance Defense and on the right hand side of that page is a box you can click and we will email you a list of some 325 potential defense clients. These are firms I have either worked cases with and/or have contacts at AND they all have one thing in common – they need defense attorneys!