As featured on LinkedIn, August 19, 2022.
“Much of my business comes from overseas, but it’s tricky to generate.” This is a common refrain I hear from professionals, both from those in the US eyeing Europe, Asia and Latin America, and from those abroad hoping to get work from the US.
There will often be a partner, let’s call him Bob, who maintains most of the firm’s essential relationships with firms in other jurisdictions. Bob may also be the key and sole contact for the firm’s involvement in one of the more formalized networks.
Kudos to Bob, maybe. This paradigm is problematic for several reasons. First, Bob controls these relationships and knows one or two people at several firms but is not connecting his other partners with their overseas counterparts. The corporate people at both firms may know one another, but what about the firm’s tax group or international arbitration team? The relationship can’t be a rich or multi-leveled one. Second, Bob may be vying for a leadership role at the firm and may decide to leave if he doesn’t get it. And when he departs, many of those critical relationships, which make him very valuable to another law firm, will accompany him out the door.
So how do you maintain an international firm initiative? It’s complicated and nuanced, but here are a few necessary steps.
Define which jurisdictions and which firms are most important to you. While there will be others outside of a select few that mean the most to you, to which you send matters, and they likely reciprocate, having a focus saves time and effort and allows you to foster the most important relationships.
Understand that relationships are not conjured up by one meeting. After identifying those firms that mean the most to you, consider a game plan for how you can best help them. Think about what you give rather than what you get. Devise a plan to introduce them to other partners at your firm, and create a plan to remain in touch with them. Consider what type of legal updates and invitations you will send them and how you can help them by providing them with helpful advice and introductions that will make a difference.
Zipper the relationship. Build the relationship by ensuring several points of contact within the partnership. The corporate people should have corporate connections, and the litigators should also have those connections. There should be a web of connections to develop fulsome relationships that can withstand a single partner’s departure and can help both firms in many ways.
Track your relationships and activities. For example, at many firms, if a partner is visiting a best friends firm, prior to a meeting with the firm, they are provided with a list of the various contacts between the two firms, the names of secondees that might have worked there, and any business that had been sent to the firm or received back involving the firm. Using the right technology, the marketing department can help easily spot which matters the firm had received and which referrals they had sent to others.
Create collaborative opportunities. Whether it’s writing articles together, sitting on panels at an IBA program, creating joint seminars for clients or one another, or finding ways to collaborate, it will provide ways to get to know one another better and help one another in terms of marketing.
While a foreign firm initiative takes time, giving it attention and a structure can make all the difference in the world.