How do corporate lawyers get clients in a crisis?

by 
Ivan Rasic
 - 
April 23, 2020

How do lawyers get business clients today?

For sure, downscaling (failing even) businesses across the globe will impact law firms' revenue. However, with some reflection, the proper focus, and out-of-the-box thinking, you can still manage just fine. It is hard, but in every crisis, there are also opportunities for law firms.

Corporate lawyers typically get clients by networking, referrals, and publishing their law firm’s achievements. But in a crisis, they need to show empathy and creativity. Before marketing, lawyers should learn deeply about their corporate clients.

(you just can’t show empathy unless you know quite a lot about your clients - and here is why that matters)

The TL;DR of this article - lawyers need to revise standard practices of getting new corporate clients and adapt them to present circumstances. Namely, we will look into how can you leverage:

  • event networking;
  • referrals;
  • digital marketing channels (i.e. newsletters, social media, content marketing) and advertisement.

Bonus, we will also examine legal products as a potential channel for new corporate client leads.

How do corporate lawyers get clients in a crisis?

Photo by Abigail Lynn on Unsplash

Traditional business development may backfire

What lawyers used to do before to get clients may not just work today, or it could be downright impossible. Case in point, the pandemic, and social distancing aren't quite stimulating in-person networking events.

Some methods, like referrals, remain vital, and you should make sure to double-down there.

Generally, your aim should be to drill down on how your clients feel right now and what they are going through. The crisis is severe and takes a toll on everyone.

Why you need to shift to digital networking

Corporate law firms are known for using in-person networking events to get clients. In regular times, such events are great to get to know the newly appointed General Counsel or a Chief Compliance Officer (or anyone else for that matter).

Moreover, startup lawyers attend pitching events and frequently mentor upstarting companies and teams. Various local chambers of commerce and trade associations could be yet another source of such events.

(it all depends on what is your niche as a corporate lawyer)

Regardless of the technological advent, nothing can truly replace an in-person impression of people that you just met. Hence, it is naturally the best way for lawyers to learn about their corporate clients in a face-to-face conversation.

However, the 2020 pandemic has undoubtedly put a halt on such events.

Photo by Lerone Pieters on Unsplash

So far, the knee-jerk reaction was for law firms to move to remote working. However, once you have settled down in your home office, it's time to think about how you can get clients.

"But, but…" I hear you cry out loud, "I have LOADS of project work in my backlog. I can't even accept any new clients for weeks ahead!"

Well, first of all, congratulations! It is great to be in your position. Secondly, while some may expect social distancing in times of the COVID-19 to be a one-off measure, some studies argue otherwise.

For example, this Harward study projects that we will have to go through a few cycles of more and less stringent social distancing measures to keep the pandemic in check (as far as possible). The study claims such a regime could span right into 2022.

What is the alternative to traditional networking?

Corporate lawyers can turn to digital conferencing platforms for hosting networking events. Such virtual events could be a good start in discovering how you can help some companies in these difficult times.

When planning such an event, you could be setting a topic upfront (i.e., like a mini webinar of sorts). However, some experts simply invite people from various niches to talk about their businesses.

If you don't want to take too much time, or can't think of a topic right now, just start with a few simple questions:-

How do you manage in the present circumstances? How did COVID-19 impact your business? What new challenges are you facing? How is your team coping?

You get the drift. These questions could serve as a simple conversation starter and can lead to much more profound subjects. Pay close attention to what people are saying.

At that stage, don't concern yourself too much about the outcome. The goal is for you to network and to learn more about the challenges that businesses are facing nowadays. We are all in the same boat here, and it is all very new to everyone. 

Odds are, you could learn that you can help with some challenges. At other times, there may be nothing for you to pitch in from the get-go. But you will also get to tell your story and the story of your law firm. And this could be an in-road to future engagement.

Photo by My name is Yanick on Unsplash

Some notable examples of virtual meetups

Alexander Su, formerly Biglaw and now in Business Development at Evisort, hosts periodic virtual meetups with lawyers and students. It helps all just to speak their mind. 

Ari Kaplan’s Virtual Lunch sessions are another great example. More than thirty people attended some of those meetups.

It is a pure win-win. It helps everyone cope emotionally while putting your brand in the spotlight.

Just don't expect to close a sale right after immediately. The goal at this stage is to learn as much as possible and to get your brand across.

Double down on client referrals 

Word of mouth is traditionally the most potent channel for corporate lawyers to get new clients. You can use this method in combination with virtual events - simply ask your clients to invite business people from their (or related) niche to attend.

However, it is a good practice for you to examine how do you stand in your clients’ eyes. To do that, you should use client surveys and the Net Promoter Score method.

Clients surveys can help you learn

It may seem intuitive, right? So many businesses across the board use various client satisfaction surveys as learning tools.

However, according to Heather Suttie, it seems that some law firms may be falling short in that practice. Namely:

“Client engagement starts with active listening. This is when two ears and one mouth, used proportionally, are critical to legal-service-delivery excellence.

However, in 2009, Canadian Lawyer’s General Counsel Survey found that 72 percent of respondents had not been asked by their top law firms to participate in a client satisfaction survey. And over the last 10 years, these findings have gotten worse.

A more recent Canadian Lawyer annual corporate counsel survey found that 87.8 percent of large companies asked were not surveyed by their law firms. 

This latest finding is echoed by the 2019 Managing Partner Forum survey of 167 U.S. law firm leaders, which revealed that 77 percent do not systematically measure client satisfaction in any way. 

However, 85 percent said marketing and business development was their firm's top priority…”  - Heather Suttie

When conducting surveys, you may also want to include questions that will help you determine your Net Promoter Score.

The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a leading metric that businesses across the board use to determine their client satisfaction and loyalty. It tells you not only how satisfied are your clients - it can help you determine how excited are they about your services.

And also, how likely are they to recommend you.

But try to learn with empathy

You will have a hard time getting new client work if all you are only interested in yourself. Hence, use client surveys not only to reflect satisfaction with your services. Ask questions about their business, their challenges, and strategies going forward. Be a friend in a tough situation.

Apart from positioning as an empathetic adviser, you will need that information to formulate your marketing strategy going forward.

Digital marketing to corporate clients in hard times

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Digital marketing to corporate clients in hard times

Digital marketing isn’t new to corporate law firms. Many were active from before in this domain. They used to publish newsletters, hire SEO specialists, and had lined budgets for online advertising. Likewise, law firms nowadays frequently write content and are active on social media.

With social distancing, these channels are very likely to stay. However, you may need to adapt your approach slightly to remain attractive to corporate clients.

Newsletters and Social Media

Traditionally, law firms would use social media and their internal newsletters to talk about their achievements. I am sure you can relate and think of at least a few examples: 

“Law Firm Such-and-Such has helped the ABC Co to set up shop in Country XYZ,” and the likes.

Law Firms would leverage a similar approach via their newsletters and social media alike. However, nowadays, talking mainly about your achievements could seem a bit off and backfire.

The backlash is much more likely in times when companies had to downsize significantly. It is unappealing to read about your success if their house is burning.

So does that mean you should stop publishing?  

Absolutely not.

Instead, try to refocus the topic. The spotlight shouldn’t be on you as much as on your corporate clients.

If you have done what we have mentioned before (i.e. organized virtual chats, and used surveys to learn more about hardships businesses face), you now know what topics are relevant to your clients. 

Is now the right time to advertise? 

In Q1 2020, there was a massive drop in marketing budgets across the board. Practically, that means less competition for online ad bids and lower cost per click or impression. 

If you have a budget in place, now may be the best time to test with ads, learn, and see what works best for your law firm. 

However, if you want to get new corporate clients via ads, please have in mind everything you learned from your virtual meetups and surveys. You need to focus on present problems, and forget about the “me, me, me” marketing for a while.

Case in point, here is what some of the professional marketers spotted:

“When evaluating any decision on investing in digital ads, think about the short and long-term effects of COVID-19 on the way advertising is done.

In the short term, you need to take the following steps to ensure effective advertising during COVID-19: 

Double-check all current ad messaging concepts to ensure their tone is considerate of the ongoing pandemic and how people may be affected by it.

To the point above, hard-sell ad copy is not working well right now. Conversion rates are down 21% since the start of the pandemic. Shift messaging toward thought leadership and community building instead.

Building on thought leadership content, video ads may be more effective now than ever given people’s increased media consumption.

In the long term, digital advertisers should recognize that these short-term trends are here to stay for a while as we start an uphill economic battle coming out of the pandemic. Learning and testing during this time period will be the most important way for advertisers to grow coming out of COVID-19.”

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

Lawyers can use products to get corporate clients

By using everything you have learned so far about your clients, as well as your niche, you can create products that will help you attract new clients.

These products could either be educational (the so-called info products) or come in the shape of productized legal services.

Ideally, info products should contain some know-how that answers some of the questions or challenges corporate clients might have. Offer those products in exchange for their contact emails (a double-opt-in email, most commonly) to fill the top of your marketing funnel. 

Once you have created targeted info products, you can use the whole array of channels to get them across. I.e., social media, your newsletter, advertising campaigns - every channel is at your disposal.

Productization scales your outreach

Corporate lawyers are probably the best positioned when it comes to productizing legal services. Nowadays, with a bit of creative thinking, they can even get clients and revenue while asleep. Quite literally.

Corporate lawyers have TONS of know-how in repetitive, commoditized legal matters. You could use the expertise to create a digital arm of your law firm, that could be available around the clock - 24/7.

Especially in times of economic downturn, businesses may be a bit more cautious before retaining a lawyer. If anything, their budgets may get even more under pressure. Hence, it may be a good idea to have a few DYI offerings that you can hang on your website (and other digital platforms).

"Once the COVID-19 health issue is resolved, there will be a lot of scorched earth in the world. Many economies will take years to recover, but there will always be a need for legal assistance.

What clients will not be willing to do is to pay exorbitant fees if there is an option to subscribe to a legal service or to have fixed legal costs in general…" - Marko Porobija

You may decide to charge for said legal products or to give them entirely for free (in exchange for a business lead, obviously). In both cases, you have created a lead generating machine that will help you build up your contact base. Having a good list is paramount for getting new clients.

Finally (and this can’t be emphasized enough) legal products scale, while legal services do not.

However, even if your law firm isn’t interested in transforming your Biglaw business model, it is always great to showcase your expertise to new eyeballs and attract clients. 

Especially if you can do so while you are asleep.

Lawyers can use products to get corporate clients

Photo by Avi Richards on Unsplash

Frequently Asked Questions 

What does a commercial law firm do?

Commercial law firms provide legal services to corporate clients. Their main activities are in Corporate Law, Banking and Finance, Competition, Data Protection, Intellectual Property, M&A, and others.

How do corporate lawyers and law firms typically get clients?

Typically, corporate lawyers get clients by networking, referrals, and publishing their law firm’s achievements. To be effective, law firms need to research their niche area prospects thoroughly.

What are the challenges facing the legal industry nowadays?

The crisis and downscaling businesses negatively impact law firms’ bottom line. Moreover, there is increased competition from legal departments, the Big 4, and Alternative Legal Service Providers.

How do law firms generate revenue?

Traditionally, law firms make money by selling their legal services. Additionally, modern law firms consult legal departments on legal tech. Finally, innovative law firms also sell legal products. 

What are business opportunities for law firms?

Law firms that have some legal tech capacity could consult their corporate clients’ legal departments on how to implement legal technology systems. Moreover, they should leverage legal products.


Ivan Rasic holds the Transnational Trade Law and Finance LLM, a program by Universidad de Deusto (Bilbao, ES), Universiteit van Tilburg (Tilburg, NL), and Goethe Universität (Frankfurt, DE). After his work in law firms and inhouse, he started a legal tech company.

Nowadays, Ivan leads STP Informationstechnologie AG's Sofia RnD center with project/development management, culture, strategy, and special project initiatives.

Ivan is an Ambassador at European Legal Tech Association (ELTA). He closely follows and writes on future of law, legal tech, ALSPs, and new ways of delivering legal services.

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