Much has been written about the importance of lawyers becoming strategic business advisors to clients – above and beyond their roles as legal advisors.
Lindsay Griffiths (@LindsayGriffith) wrote in Zen & the Art of Legal Networking Blogthat: “Clients are looking for a business partner (emphasis on the “business”). During the LMA’s GC panel, we even heard one client comment that she sees her outside counsel as a business arm of her company. So act as though you are an extension of that client’s business – what would you need to know about them? How would you go about finding out how they operate, what risks and challenges they face, etc? Don’t be their lawyer; be their partner. “
Both these articles are superb and ought to be read in full by any lawyers seeking to become a comprehensive strategic advisor to clients beyond the confines of the strict practice of law. With these articles in mind, I’ve compiled a list of 10 steps business-focused lawyers in private practice can take to become comprehensive business advisors to foreign clients:
- Identify basic information about a prospective client – Before making any effort to seek to become a business advisor to a client, it is imperative to start with the basics. If one is seeking to be of assistance to clients from overseas who may be interested in your market – first identify the size of the company, revenue and profit figures, ownership structure, sector vertical(s), among other fundamental/basic information.
- Identify current exposure to international markets – It’s important to understand whether any company you are seeking to represent already has exposure to foreign markets (including yours). And if so, have they been successful? If so, how? Also, determine what challenges or problems they needed to solve in those markets. And how did they solve them? Importantly, too, identify opportunities the company sought to capitalize upon in those foreign markets and the motivation for pursuing those opportunities.
- Identify opportunities in your market – What opportunities in your market might be uniquely interesting to the potential client you’ve identified? These opportunities may or may not require your services to consummate – however your domestic referral sources might be able to help. This creates an event where when you refer that potential client, you can reasonably expect your referral sources will be keeping you in mind for their next referral requiring your services. So when looking at all potential opportunities for a prospective client – consider those opportunities which might appeal directly to the commercial interests of your potential clients. For example, the availability of government contracts, acquisition opportunities, distribution channels or other unique opportunities specific to their sector or other corporate characteristics and driving motivations.
- Does your jurisdiction provide unique tax or regulatory benefits to foreign companies? Foreign companies are often very attracted by favorable tax and regulatory treatment. It’s important to learn about these and the companies which they may apply to – before seeking to represent foreign clients in your market. Awareness of these opportunities can be a profound advantage when meeting with potential clients about retaining your firm to help them enter your market.
- What dangers exist in your market unique to your prospective foreign client? Dangers are often at the forefront of the minds of corporate executives seeking to determine whether to enter a foreign market. Determine what these dangers are in your market and seek to provide solutions for your prospective client before you meet with them. For example, if your jurisdiction presents significant tort-liability risk – seek to provide clients with a pre-market entry liability audit. Also determine whether your market is hyper-competitive in your potential client’s niche and where you might help provide unique competitive advantage to your client. Is their uniquely aggressive governmental oversight over your client’s industry? If so, seek to provide a menu of potential solutions to clients before you meet with them. These options might include the services of business allies in investment banking, public affairs advisory services, management consulting, tax and accounting services, and more.
- Political alliances – Determine what if any political alliances might be advantageous to your prospective client. For example, in the US, locating an aerospace corporate headquarters in the district of a member of a Congressional committee related to the aerospace sector can help a company navigate the domestic market more effectively with the counsel of a well-informed congressional advocate.
- Put together a panel of local experts – Consider presenting a list of potential advisors to your client. Business, political and other strategic advisors you work with and whom you will call on to provide strategic advisory assistance to the client should you be retained.
- Provide active business intelligence – Before meeting with any prospective client – identify commercial opportunities which are likely to be of interest to your client. Corporate clients, no matter how well-informed, can never be aware of all opportunities in all overseas markets. Become a source, therefore, of unique opportunities in your market.
- Study the management team – Make sure you study the biographies of the management team of your prospective client. Determine which direction they’ve take the company before – to better inform you of what trajectory they may be interested in taking the company in your market.
- Determine carefully which channels of communication you may wish to utilize to engage each potential client. Should you work through local or regional connections who may know them? Should you contact them directly via phone, letter or email? Or should you instead blog about issues of importance to them and their competitors? Each situation requires a unique strategy.
Important for lawyers to remember is — spend informed time focused on generating work amid the growth of international commerce. But before embarking upon any effort to become a strategic business advisor to foreign clients, be sure to be fully prepared.