Solo/Small Firm

You Can Win Big Company Clients!

Corporate work is no longer the sole domain of big law

By Martha M. Newman

If you believe you cannot land big company clients because you are a solo practitioner or a small firm attorney, let the following facts rid you of that demoralizing notion.

Preferred counsel lists
How do you get on the preferred counsel lists of big companies? There is no magic formula nor do most companies even have those lists. In a 2013 survey of in-house counsels in Florida and Texas, only 27 percent of respondents used formal procedures, according to the American Bar Association.

Martindale-Hubbell, in a 2005 study, found a mere 17 percent of in-house legal departments have formal procedures for choosing firms to be on lists. However, 63 percent had informal lists of approved lawyers. General counsels seek referrals from personal connections, current outside counsel, and other companies. You can be one of those referrals.

Build connections with large firms and in-house lawyers
Network with your current personal and law firm connections to discover corporate contacts who could introduce you to someone practicing in-house. Ask your contacts in large firms to refer you spillover work from their company clients.

Contribute newsletter articles and speak in front of industry and professional organizations and join nonprofits and community groups where high net worth individuals sit on the boards.

Use LinkedIn to search for in-house lawyers and join their LinkedIn groups if possible. Begin posting valuable content to build your brand as a thought leader and raise your visibility. Research your LinkedIn connections to find if they are connected to companies you are targeting and ask for introductions.

Find out what large law firms are already servicing your prospective company clients and cultivate relationships with lawyers whose firms need bench strength in your specialty and ride their coattails into corporate America!

Pitch points for small firms

  • Hiring a small firm is akin to using a small section in a large firm, but for lower rates.

  • Experienced partners in small firms do higher quality work than big-firm associates and take less time.

  • Business acumen and industry knowledge often set apart niche firms.

  • Even if a firm has 200 or more lawyers, only three or four may work on routine matters.

  • Small firms charge 25 to 30 percent less than big firms for the same services and often are more willing to negotiate alternative fee arrangements.

  • Using solos to manage external counsel in one specialty area is efficient and less costly.

  • If general counsels let small firms prove their worth by tackling small pieces of business, they will discover the value of small over big.

  • Hiring a niche practitioner within a specialty area can be less risky than choosing specialists who handle multiple kinds of matters.

  • 92.3 percent of winners in court come from small firms, not big law, according to New York legal analytics firm Premonition.

Diversity gains you access
Getting certified as a minority- or woman-owned firm opens corporate doors. Companies need to satisfy demands for diverse teams of lawyers. As a result, certified firms find it easier to get face time with general counsels and to partner with larger firms whose diversity is weak.

More big companies are flocking to specialty boutiques
Boutique law firms led by former big firm partners with five to 15 lawyers have gained a foothold in legal departments across the country, particularly when boutiques limit their clientele to one given industry.

Publicly held companies frequently hire boutiques because boutiques:

  • Offer big law experience but can charge less than half the hourly rate, i.e. $450 vs. $975.

  • Offer deep bench strength in one or two areas.

  • Are nimble and can adapt quickly to a client’s changing needs.

You can grab work from big firms
According to a 2017 article at, a recent survey conducted by In The House, an online association of 26,000 lawyers working for legal departments, found that 45 percent had cut ties with their existing outside counsel in the past two years. Their reasons: Those firms were “too expensive,” “unresponsive,” “did bad work,” “worked inefficiently,” and “didn’t understand our business.” That statistic should embolden those of you in small firms to look beyond the small-client mindset and think bigger about what is possible when you doggedly pursue corporate clients. TBJ


Martha E. NewmanMARTHA M. NEWMAN is a former oil and gas litigator and owner of Top Lawyer Coach. Newman has been awarded the Professional Certified Coach, or PCC, credential by the International Coach Federation in recognition of her coaching excellence. She specializes in lawyer coaching, consulting, and facilitating in the areas of business development, time management, presentation skills, career advancement, leadership, law firm management, and job interviewing. For more information, go to

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