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Client-Centered Presentations and Proposals

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Proposals and presentations are becoming ever more important and not just for corporate transactional engagements. The key is to make the presentations client-centered. The most successful proposals do not emphasize the attorney or firm but stress an understanding of the client's needs.

This article discusses

  • basic elements of proposals/presentations.
  • how to assess client needs.
  • the structure of written proposal.
  • oral presentation techniques.

Proposals and presentations are quite significant in the individual attorney's marketing plan, as part of its conceptualization as well as its implementation. Each makes a statement about the attorney's image. A well-researched, neatly prepared proposal submitted on attorney or firm stationery speaks volumes to the client about the value the attorney is placing on that person's work.

The same is true of presentations. A well-rehearsed, smooth presentation demonstrates to the client that the attorney is conscientious. It grants the client a deserved position of importance in the process.

Assessment and the First Interview

The first step in the written presentation process is assessment. One part is secondary research, the use of existing formal and informal sources to learn as much as possible about the prospective client, his or her particular situation, and related industries. The attorney should focus particularly on the client's customers and their prospects as well as industry prospects.

Next, having gathered an overview of the client and his or her industry, the attorney must focus on the unique individual legal situation. What other matters have the client been involved in, both past and present? If the attorney's office does not have easy access to this information, law school libraries often provide resources which, for a fee, can provide the necessary data.

While the attorney is checking the potential client's legal background, the attorney should also check the general legal background of the industry for an overview of client industry issues.

Having completed this research, the attorney is ready for a first inter view. The purpose of this interview is actually a continuation of the assessment process. To this end, the attorney must ask questions to determine specific needs while focusing on client objectives. The attorney should also ask questions regarding the preferred manner of the attorney-client relation ship, including type and frequency of communications (like status or progress reports). Relationship style will have a direct bearing on the attorney's matter administration.

One important aspect of the first interview is to determine if in fact there is a fit between attorney and client. In the final analysis, clients hire attorneys, not firms.

The Written Proposal

Following the initial interview, the attorney should go over in detail all of the information gathered. As a result of this the attorney's research will be tailored according to client feedback provided in that interview. Client perceptions are more important than trend analyses or historical data in establishing an attorney-client relationship!

The written proposal should be divided into sections, which should be named and noticeably headlined. These sections should include objectives, qualifications, scope and direction, methodology, fees, and expenses and benefits. Section names may vary according to clients, or even additional sections may be necessary in some situations.

The objectives section must state an understanding of the client's objectives for the matter. This is much more important than stating attorney objectives because it demonstrates the attorney's understanding of the client's situation.

The qualifications section should restate the specific qualifications that will be applicable to this particular matter. If the proposal is for a long-term counsel relationship, the proposal should state situation-specific qualifications which are applicable to the client, their industry, and their particular challenges. If conflicts and confidentiality are issues, information regarding these areas should be noted here, a sample listing of similar clients and similar matters may also be included. References may also be listed in the qualifications section.

Next, the scope and direction section must state the attorney's relation ship to the matter, specifically spelling out how it will be managed. One of the key elements of this section will be a demonstration of matter management techniques as well as the general breadth and depth of the attorney's relationship involvement.

The methodology section should be in outline form. It essentially is a step-by-step script which a client may follow to see exactly how the attorney will approach the matter. What is the first process the attorney will under take and what will it entail? What is the next process, and so forth. If at all possible, the attorney can also provide a projected time line to give the client an indication of the amount of time and detail required by each step. The fees and expenses section should be accurate, but brief. By reading this, the client should understand the attorney's basis for fees, whether hourly or value based.

The final section, benefits, should restate the anticipated results of the attorney-client relationship and if at all possible, the monetary value of successful completion of the matter. This stated monetary value is more important in a transactional matter than in the case of ongoing counsel. In the case of the latter, the attorney can only cite the importance of having ongoing counsel relationship because of the opportunity it provides to better understand client needs and objectives.

Oral Presentations

The first rule in successful oral presentations is to write out an agenda regarding the purpose of the encounter as derived from the assessment process. Included in this agenda should be all items to be discussed during the course of the meeting.

If more than one attorney will be making the presentation, each attorney should speak regarding his or her own area of expertise. Rehearsal is extremely important and valuable for attorney teams as well as for a solo presentation.

As with the first interview, the attorney should be careful to ask questions rather than dominate the client with nonstop talk. The attorney can ask if the proposal reflects an understanding of client needs and answers client concerns for information. This is a point where the attorney can get the client to agree that the proposal is responsive to their information needs.
Experienced negotiators know that the art of negotiating is simply a matter of asking a series of questions so that client needs can be matched with attorney requirements.

In closing the presentation, specific questions can be asked: When does the client want to start? Should the attorney proceed with the research? Should the attorney draw up the retainer agreement? The attorney must be careful to let the client have the last word. His or her response should end the meeting.

Here is a summary checklist for attorney presentations. This works for get-acquainted meetings as well as specific work proposals:
  1. Prepare an agenda. Hand it out in advance of the meeting so that all participants know what to expect,
  2. Do advance research. Ask the company or potential client about the composition of the group, their previous experience with outside counsel, their individual interests and particular needs. Get all their names in advance, with biographies if possible. Ask "If I had one thing to say, what would it be?" Try to learn in advance what questions the group will ask.
  3. Focus your presentation on real needs. Most groups want to know "What's in this for me? How can I use this information?" Tell them how your services differ from others, and describe what an attorney can do for them. Be really clear about this.
  4. Emphasize your help to protect them. This is an overriding issue among all clients. Tell them your role in this.
  5. Illustrate what you do through anecdotes. Make these numerous and short: "This was the situation. Here's what I did. Here's what the client did." Be careful that your stories do not run counter to the normal way that the person or organization operates. Tell four or five, or tell none. If you only tell one or two, they'll think you only work in one or two ways.
  6. Rehearse. Especially if more than one attorney is involved, a dry run through the presentation is essential. Just as actors must per form a dress rehearsal, so too must attorneys prepare for their stage performance.
  7. Follow up with personal phone calls. Ask individuals in the meeting about their specific areas of interest, so that you can send them information or share experiences. In a group, they'll tend to all agree on some thing; when you talk to the individuals, you'll get much better information on their specific needs.

Distribute materials. A "leave behind" is important. At minimum, leave your business card and a brochure/packet of information. Put each participant's name on the packet of materials to be distributed. For those who do not attend, leave the packets with the office secretary.

About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of LawCrossing and an internationally recognized expert in attorney search and placement. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.

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