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How Do I Generate Business in a Practice Area with Lower Billing Rates?

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Summary: How can you attract business if you are in an area of law that tends to have lower billing rates than the other practice areas in your firm?
How can you attract business if you are in a practice area with a lower billing rate?

Question: I’m a senior associate at a major firm. I want to cultivate business, but I’m in an area of law that tends to have lower billing rates than the other areas my firm specializes in. I feel like it may stand in the way of my being able to attract smaller and local clients. What can I do?

Answer: Since you are not yet an equity partner, you may not know a lot about how the firm’s fee structure works. Each firm is unique, and even the largest firms are sometimes able to be flexible when adjusting billing rates down for less lucrative practice areas. The first thing you might do is pick the brain of an equity partner—someone you trust who is in preferably your practice area. You will want to ask them whether the firm’s rates vary according to practice area or client, or whether they are the same across the board. You will also want to find out how strong the firm’s cross-selling capabilities are. One of the beautiful things about working in a large firm is that when a client knows and trusts a partner in your firm, they may be more open to trusting you too and giving you their business in another area of law. An additional plus is that that client is already used to paying your colleague’s high rate, and may not require a discount. Some firms emphasize cross-selling more than others, so this will be important for you to know as you approach partnership.
I often get attorneys in your position who learn that either their firm does not offer very much in the way of cross-selling opportunities, or that their firm has one rate that is too high to attract the types of clients they are seeking. If that is the case, it may be time to move on. A smaller firm may appreciate the outstanding training you have gained in a large firm, and may also support your entrepreneurial tendency. Smaller clients often look to smaller firms to perform work for them, and while their rates may not be as high, small, local clients can be very loyal to a firm that represents them well and for a manageable rate.
See the following articles for more information:

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