At the ARK KM Conference last week, there was a statement made that caused a few feathers to be ruffled in the audience… and, surprisingly, I wasn’t the one that said it. One of the presenters mentioned that he sat in on client pitches in order to show the importance that Knowledge Management plays in the effectiveness of the law firm’s representation of the client. Although I don’t remember the exact quote, this was followed up with a statement that roughly said: “In order to have a successful KM program, you have to be in these client pitches.” During the rest of the program, I had a number of audience members come up to me and mention that this statement was simply not true and that KM can have a presence in these meetings, but that doesn’t mean they have to physically be there to have an influence on the client’s decision.

Most of the people I talked to said that they would be willing to pitch to the clients about the value of KM, but that they focus on making the Partners aware of the value of KM, as well as working with Marketing to make sure the materials that the clients see explain the processes that the firm focuses on, and how the processes are streamlined through the overall Knowledge Management program. In other words, KM has a presence in the pitch, but doesn’t need to give a five-minute dog-and-pony show to the client on all the whiz-bang processes that KM supports to provide better, more effective, services to the client.

[Sidebar: Now, I’ll let you in on a secret… sometimes – especially at these types of specialty conferences – people can over-hype how important they are back at their firms. Sometimes, some of those great looking interfaces that they show you on PowerPoint slides… they don’t really work as well as the presenter says they do. Sometimes, a presenter may say they always have “A Seat At The Table” when they really only walked by the table once and gave a quick presentation (all while standing beside the table, because all the chairs were occupied.) So, be careful on taking some of these stories at face value. A serious “red-flag” is when someone talks up something, then finishes up with the old standby of “I’d love to say (or show you) more, but this is proprietary and my firm won’t let me.” Remember, if it sounds too good to be true… it usually is.]

All of this isn’t to say that there isn’t times when having KM at the client pitch wouldn’t be useful. In fact, there was one scenario that one of the speakers brought up that would make perfect sense for KM to show up at the initial client pitch, and that is when you are pitching to General Counsel that is an alumni of your firm. The GC is probably remembering how inefficient he or she was when they worked at your firm, and assumes that you are still as bad at it as you used to be. If you’ve improved the processes and procedures of legal work at your firm through KM projects, then this is the time to bring those out into the light.

It’s important for KM to have a presence when pitching the overall services to a new or existing client. However, it doesn’t seem that in order for a firm to have a “successful” KM group, that they need to physically be present at the client pitch unless doing so solves a specific question the client may have. Quite frankly, this rule fits most of the cogs of the great law firm machine. Each of our individual pieces should remind those needing to be in attendance on the client pitch of the value that we bring in representing the client in an efficient and effective manner. It really is a matter of having a presence in the overall abilities of the firm to represent the client, even when we are not actually present in the room with that client.

  • To start, I wasn't at last week's ARK KM Conference (though I wish I had been, especially after reading your blog entry). Even though you didn't mention names in your post, I think I can make a fairly educated guess on the target. Since a few of those statements were a bit pointed, I thought another testimonial would be helpful.

    To aid my recount, I'll keep my response fairly focused – not upon my entire group, but my firsthand experiences. I have gone on pitches to demonstrate the value of our KM efforts. Several. Not web-meetings where dog-and-pony shows are done for clients (I've done a lot of those too though), but live, on-site pitches (in which I have crossed several states to reach my destination).

    Generally, the room consists of several people on behalf of the client, a few high-level partners and me. I most certainly do have a seat at the table. My goal – explain our tools and how they can be applied to a proposed engagement…and to do so in terms the client can understand.

    The visuals are usually conveyed via Powerpoint, because internet service in some of these meetings can be spotty (those of you who have demo'ed a live system know what I mean). But, a colleague and I will spend a day or so building out a live, working system based on whatever preliminary information we have. It is from that system that I will draw screenshots. As such, if I needed to give a live demo – I easily could. What we show is not vaporware.

    At first, our attorneys were a bit nervous about introducing an unknown variable into an important meeting. But, the attention our tools and approaches have garnered from prospective clients has created a lot of buzz within the Firm. Because of this, the frequency with which we have been asked to attend pitches has increased, rather dramatically, actually, in the past three months.

    Why have we gotten the traction we have? First, clients are very focused on a few specific things when discussions have reached the in-person pitch stage. Efficiency, predictability, consistency and transparency are at the forefront of their minds. Legal skills are important, but, to be honest, when firms our size are competing for work, legal expertise is somewhat assumed. How the legal work will be done is what really catches attention now – and much of what we have speaks to that.

    Capabilities that can woo clients are quite valuable. I don't know a whole lot about your firm, but, if the roles were reversed, I would bet you wouldn't be able to go into great detail on the contents of your approach either.

    I hope that's helpful. Now, I have to get back to preparing some materials for a coming client meeting…(honestly, I do).

  • There are no hard rules about who should attend client pitches. There is an invaluable rule about mentioning all the services available and stressing how well lawyers and KM people, or other essential non-lawyers, communicate and work well together.

    As a business consultant for lawyers,one of the most important things I see is that clients don't like black boxes. An explanation of who is on the team is often sufficient and always important.