Ask the Authorities

The Question
Our business plan with a large client requires that we penetrate areas other than litigation because our senior partner said we have all the company’s litigation. Our research revealed that we are doing only 15 percent of the client’s litigation. How do I break the news without upsetting the senior partner?



Geoffrey Frost


You should never feel scared to discuss these business development issues with your lawyers, and not telling them can hurt you professionally and your firm financially. There is, of course, a right way and a wrong way to deliver the information. Here is how I would do it:

  1. Bring data. Have the litigation reports and other research you used to discover this opportunity at the ready. Pull specific cases and complaints to demonstrate that there was work you could have done and someone else is doing it.
  2. Deliver the message with a positive spin. Don’t directly tell the lawyer he’s missing opportunities. Help him draw this conclusion by explaining that you discovered this information as part of your regular due diligence and need him to help you determine whether additional opportunities exist.
  3. Conclude with action items. Be prepared with two or three immediate action items to move his thoughts away from the missed opportunities and on to the increased potential from this client.

Assuming the lawyer is a rational human being, he should quickly acknowledge the additional opportunities and will want to devise a plan to get the work.

Geoffrey Frost is the director of client development for the high-stakes business litigation firm Bondurant Mixson and Elmore in Atlanta. He can be reached at


Tom Helm


This situation can be a delicate one, but try turning this “negative” into a positive. Assuming you have good rapport with the senior partner, be upfront and straightforward about your findings. Facts are facts. Keep in mind the partner may have been told by the client that your firm was handling all of its litigation. You should include your managing partner for political purposes and to help navigate the situation.

The key is to find out why your firm is only getting 15 percent of the work without overtly asking the client. A couple of possible considerations include:

  1. Are there certain types of litigation the client doesn’t realize your firm handles, such as products liability, employment, etc.?
  2. Is the general counsel required to divide the work among multiple firms?
  3. Are there expectations not being met (e.g., special billing requests, technology or communication)?

This would likely be a good time to set up a client interview. The client meeting could be conducted by your managing partner and your firm’s  most senior marketing professional or by an outside consultant who specializes in client interviews. Who knows? Meeting your client in-person may afford your firm the opportunity to penetrate areas other than litigation, too.

Tom Helm is business development director at Swift, Currie, McGhee & Hiers, LLP in Atlanta. He is immediate past president of LMA’s Southeastern Chapter. Contact him at


Bettina Rutherford


Clearly this partner doesn’t understand the client’s business as well as he or she thinks. Perhaps offering suggestions on results-oriented client communication or on the resources your department can provide with respect to business intelligence and crossselling might be a good first step.

If you anticipate a hostile reaction to your research findings, why not try a “back door” approach by suggesting an end-of-matter survey crafted to  reveal additional opportunities or even a client interview? You could probe deeper into the question of overall litigation spend and why you are only getting a portion of it. It might soften the perceived blow to hear it directly from the client. The reasons might be perfectly benign and easily  remedied in which case the partner would be grateful for the opportunity to address them.

Are you sure you will get a negative reaction from the partner? Maybe the client thinks of your firm for only one type of litigation and would  welcome the news that they could be using you for more. Rather than feeling affronted at the news, your senior partner may be pleasantly  surprised at the opportunity to expand his or her business!

Tina Rutherford is the business development manager in the Boston office of K&L Gates and a board member of LMANE. She has legal marketing and business development experience with firms in the United States and Canada.

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