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After any timeout in a close playoff game, Larry Bird would tell the player guarding him exactly who would shoot the ball — usually Larry himself — and from where. Most players either didn’t believe him, became unnerved, or took umbrage with Mr. Bird’s implication about the inability to stop him.

And, Larry Bird would inevitably take the shot according to the play and score.

The Big 4 have revealed on numerous occasions exactly how they are going to market. Their approach includes:

  • Going to market by industry
  • Selling legal solutions to corporate counsel
  • Building as they learn
  • Going after regulatory and compliance work

And now EY Law just hired market-leading former CMO Lee Garfinkle, previously with Goodwin, Allen Overy, and Lowenstein to lead the client development efforts with GCs.

According to a study led by Robert Couture, Senior Research Fellow at the Harvard Law School Center on the Legal Profession, 70% of top global law firm leaders say they’re not making strategic changes in response to the competitive threat from the Big 4 accounting companies. Just like Larry Bird, the Big 4 are telling law firms how they are going to score and win in the marketplace — so how can law firms best defend against it?

The Big 4 know law firms are stretched and fighting a war for talent. They know it’s a good time to approach clients with legal solutions and other small-scale work. The demand is there — the supply isn’t. This gap leaves an opening for credible alternatives. As of last June, at least 29.6% of clients were open to trying Big 4 lawyers — mostly larger clients. The Big 4 are unlikely to grab large litigation and/or big M&A — but they have to start somewhere.

The immediate threat comes more on the talent side where the ex-law firm now Big 4 partners tell us they see a clearer and more predictable career path.

The Big 4 were routinely dismissed as management consultants in their early days — before they grew into the largest management consulting firms in the world. Law is different, but the Big 4 can figure it out, and they have announced their plans as they develop the market.

Law firms have the opportunity to plan for the Big 4’s inevitable grander entrance. The best defense is to build impenetrable client relationships, drive more thought leadership (a Big 4 core market strategy) to the table, and bring business development into the culture of the firm.

You can also read internationally recognized management consultant Patrick J. McKenna’s complimentary guide on industry focus. This is one of the clearest and most practical documents I have seen on the subject. This is your playbook — and unlike Larry bird — he wants to help you win.

There is virtually no downside to these defensive strategies — and you can drive more revenue irrespective of demand. The current growth provides an on-ramp for more legal services. The law firms who jump on first will have the best defense — and more business.

Best in the market ahead.

The Mad Clientist

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