Standing Firm

Gray Haile, a corporate law firm in Washington, D.C., ended 2008 on a high note, having recorded its most profitable year with $435,000 in billings. But like many small businesses, the firm, which handles mergers, acquisitions, and other transactions, experienced the effects of the recession firsthand. “We’ve seen a lot of companies cutting back on their use of outside counsel,” says Leander C. Gray, the firm’s managing partner. In 2009, Gray Haile’s billings dropped to $245,000.

While some firms might have responded by charging less, Gray and co-founder Arkan Haile, who started Gray Haile together in 2006, worked harder to communicate the advantage they offered: that by combining sophisticated, experienced counsel with the versatile, value-driven approach of a small firm, Gray Haile can provide high-caliber, cost-effective corporate and commercial legal representation. The use of large firms “makes sense for transactions that require a large team of lawyers, paralegals, and other support staff,” says Gray. But “the rationale for using them is much less compelling for handling transactions that require small teams of experienced counsel.”

The firm’s marketing message succeeded. Clients saved money by hiring Gray Haile since they didn’t have to pay the high fees and billing rates of a large firm, yet Gray Haile didn’t have to sell themselves short by lowering their rates to attract business. For the first quarter of 2010, the firm exceeded revenue projections. Their strategy proves that small businesses can withstand economic challenges if they know how to communicate their unique advantage.