Here, Law360 provides four New Year’s resolutions for those who are looking to bring their M&A practice up a notch and hit the ground running in 2019.
Be Diligent About Business Development
Brian D. Lee, a partner at Baker Botts LLP and department chair of the firm’s corporate practice, told Law360 that if M&A attorneys are looking to have an even stronger year in 2019, the most important quality to hone is diligence.
“We all know we can make the deal and serve clients well, but the most important part is getting the work from clients,” Lee said. “Whether it’s existing clients who may work with several law firms or new clients, I think there kind of needs to be a focus on business development, on networking and building deeper relationships, so that you can ask the questions about deal pipeline, the kind of things they are looking at.”
Richard V. Zolezzi, principal at Polsinelli PC with experience representing manufacturers, financial institutions and venture capital funds in their M&A transactions, said attorneys should strive to create “sticky clients” that will keep coming back to them. He recommended using the law firm’s reputation by pitching potential new clients on the breadth of practices the firm is staffed to handle as well as the range of offices an attorney’s firm has.
Lee said attorneys need to walk a fine line when drumming up new business, because they don’t want to annoy potential clients by being too aggressive, but they do want to be at the front of a client’s mind when a potential deal arises.
And building a strong M&A practice takes more than just pursuing new opportunities, but knowing which ones will be worth it and why, Lee said.
“It’s mainly networking both with new contacts and continuing to build stronger relationships with existing contacts. I think it’s much more valuable to have quality over quantity, in that respect,” Lee said. “It’s identifying the potential clients or people outside the firm in the industry where you think there would be real opportunities or synergies working together. Trying to meet as many people as you can, but identifying the handful where there is an opportunity to build deeper, stronger relationships.”
But Garth D. Stevens, a partner at Snell & Wilmer LLP working on general corporate, transactional and securities law, said attorneys shouldn’t fret too much about getting new deals and clients right as the new year starts, telling Law360 that the first month of the year is a good time to get their practice in order for the work that will come.
“I often see a post-holiday season hangover where clients just aren’t calling that much,” Stevens said. “They are still getting back into the work mode and they may be involved with internal administrative matters leading into the year in meetings and things like that, so at times it isn’t the most active time where an M&A lawyer’s phone is ringing. So it’s a good time for the lawyers to rather be worried about [finding new opportunities] to use that time productively to be proactive and reach out to prospective clients.”
Keep Expanding Your Knowledge
While being diligent and pursuing opportunities may lead to new business opportunities for attorneys and their firms, Caroline Barton, a partner in Appleby Global’s corporate department and group head of banking and asset finance and transport and logistics at the firm, told Law360 that attorneys should always strive to stay informed.
“You always have to be willing to learn,” Barton said.
“Markets change, your clients change and the law changes,” she said. “Offshore we’ve seen a whole flow of new regulations in the last 12 months, and you’ll be the best attorney for your client if you can consistently adapt to changes and always learn. You always have to be willing to find out what’s going on whether it’s in law, in the market or it could just be your client. You can never know enough.”
Lee expressed similar sentiments, noting that it is important to keep an eye on all impending legislation or regulation. For example, he said Baker Botts had a team of attorneys studying new tax initiatives in the U.S. as a way to keep the firm’s clients as informed as possible, providing updates every step of the way.
Provide Amazing Service
Polsinelli’s Zolezzi said it’s important to seek out complex deals where a BigLaw firm can maximize the value it provides by advising on all aspects of the transaction and in different jurisdictions.
Zolezzi said that he intends to do that through increased efforts to understand what clients’ business needs are and to provide solutions as soon as possible.
“I gotta say, years ago I worked for a rainmaker in New York whose name will remain totally anonymous, and he was a difficult guy to work with, but the one thing that he taught me is that you just have to give clients instant service,” Zolezzi told Law360. “If you do that for the real high-end clients that have those kinds of expectations, you are rewarded with a good client that gives you repetitive business.”
“Don’t get complacent, respond to people promptly, you are a service provider,” Zolezzi said. “They probably understand you don’t have a life so, ya know, confirm it for them and call your client back instantly and be there as a service provider. And that will eliminate so many other lawyers because for one reason or another think they are above that.”
Give Back to the Community
Snell & Wilmer’s Stevens also told Law360 that attorneys should try and work in the community and give back as a way to assess their own life and get a perspective on how people are living.
“There is a tendency for people that work long hours in ivory towers to have blinders on when they are dealing with a lot of pressures and demands and they can tend to forget that there is a lot else going on out there in the world,” Stevens said.
Stevens said there is a greater benefit for the entire community as a result, but said he finds that “doing that work themselves [attorneys] can also develop a better sense of appreciation for what they have, what’s important and just an overall better perspective as to how they should approach their work and their career.”