28 Jan Playing the long game: pursuits vs pitching

28 January 2019

Recently, there has been a definite shift in law firms dedicating more resources to client pursuits and subsequent opportunities.

With long lead-times, a focus on deepening client relationships and implementing initiatives to position firms ahead of the competition, pursuits are a sophisticated and strategic approach to winning work. This eventually leads to a pitch process.

Accounting firms have been ‘pursuing’ opportunities for years (consider how long it takes to win an audit case). However, law firms traditionally didn’t need to focus on long-lead pursuits and their business development (BD) structure reflected this.

“A good pursuit will usually result in some form of pitch (either a panel or for specific issues), but it is the culmination of a much longer and more deliberate process. Bringing new commercial and legal perspectives together that genuinely resonate with a new client’s needs is complex work – even more so when lots of stakeholder relationships are only still developing. It is challenging work, but lots of fun, and really satisfying to deliver.”

Matt Duncan, (then) Head of Client Development at Herbert Smith Freehills.

Strategic focus

Centralised pitch functions and/or practice group BD experts with excellent pitching experience have been the norm in law firms. This is changing, and BD Manager roles are becoming more strategic and pursuit-focused, including law firms hiring pursuit experts from the Big Four.

There remains a need for pitch experts who can manage and coordinate successful bids, and some firms still have a centralised pitch team. These professionals work across pursuits and on ad hoc bids, usually over a certain value, alongside subject matter experts. As a result, we have seen firms strengthen their pitch infrastructure (e.g. precedents, generic text, case studies) to enable fee earners and their teams to self-help on smaller pitches, usually without the need for BD to get involved.

Drivers of change

  • Increased competition and procurement have resulted in a stronger need to deepen client relationships and understand clients’ businesses.
  • The growing trend of partners moving between accounting and law is creating a more commercial and sales-focused culture in law firms.
  • Greater appreciation of BD skills, and the value BD can bring to strengthen client relationships.

Next steps

Interested in exploring the world of pursuits? Contact Dalton Handley for a confidential discussion and expert advice.