Make Nurturing Client Relationships your #1 Priority

The legal profession has built a cathedral for itself where it seeks to embrace the needs and wants of its clients. But in years past the client relationship was very often taken for granted: “We are here and you know where to find us.” No more so than when a client had no choice about the need to instruct a legal professional for the transaction.

Times have and are changing (rapidly).

Nothing should or can be taken for granted. If it isn’t the requirement to compete with the large retail, focused brands and outsourcing there is likely to be further pressure coming from the fee earner cohort who will, once the market frees up, be looking to flex their muscles and capitalise on the fact that they have helped to steer the firm (ship) through some exceptionally choppy waters. Or, in more colloquial terms, they will get “itchy feet” and will want to see if their current employer is prepared to live up to the challenge of abetting their sustained growth within the practice.

Assuming that you have positioned your firm and understand the nature of your clients and or the services that you are able to (or would like to) provide, the success to your continued growth – and ipso facto the people in the practice – is to nuture the strongest, deepest relationships that you can with your clients.

Just pausing at this point: Each client is a lifetime project for professional service firms and should be treated as such. Don’t think “oh I have bagged one of those” and even where, traditionally the type of instruction is an infrequent purchase (e.g. litigation), there is no reason not to want to develop other strands of the practice or consider the likely referral network of that client to refer new clients to you on the basis that they know you, like you and trust you.

Lawyers often bridle at the notion of staying in contact with a client but just reflect on your own shopping habits. Wouldn’t you prefer to buy from somewhere where the offering was reliable, the pricing was OK(ish) and the person or people you dealt with understood your buying habits?

Now I accept that those opportunities for engagement are getting less (who are you supposed to talk to apart from yourself at the self-serve Check Out?) but why make the process of looking for new clients the focus of your efforts when there is a seam of gold – your existing clients – waiting to be mined. A bit crass I know but that is the reality, especially for those firms who have been around a long time (certainly more than 20 years). Just think of the amount of client intelligence you will have amassed.

The first step to get your clients coming back is to focus, focus, focus on value enhancement. This doesn’t equate to added value. But instead you could look to:

  1. Involve the client from the outset – and I don’t just mean in giving you routine instructions – and make sure the process is as open as possible;
  2. Make any reports or working papers easy to digest. For heaven’s sake don’t resort to sending expert reports or counsel’s opinion without any commentary. Apart from anything else it looks plain lazy, as if you can’t be bothered to give your input and or question anything that is said.
  3. Make your meetings as productive as possible. Why don’t you have any agenda?
  4. Do things that you say you are going to do. This doesn’t just apply to deadline driven items but living up to the client’s expectations generally. There is nothing worse in the eyes of the client as a lawyer who says one thing at the outset and then substantially changes his/her mind.

I could provide you with a substantial list of things to focus on but instead why don’t you create a meaningful client questionnaire to give you the feedback and bedrock to build up your value proposition. Once you have amassed enough (meaningful) results you will quickly be able to dissect the key themes that float the boats of clients. Trust me when I say that it won’t be quite what you expect.

The thing is it is not sufficient to preach the benefit of immersive client relationships – you have to show the demontrable results by virtue of clients continuing to come back again and again. Once you have shown the wisdom of spending time with your clients the easier it will be to turn the naysayers on to the benefit of spending crucial time with your clients.

Get everyone to look at a client not as a one off proposition and think about the number of times they could buy and sell a property, make and revise a will and involve others, by referral, in your firm’s services. There will be some immensely frustrating times when nothing seems to happen but that is not a signal to give up on the nuturing proposition. If anything it should inspire you to continue given the likelihood of profitable outcomes. Now I am not suggesting that you abandon or resile from the idea of developing new clients but my view is that this part of the exercise, which often looks more attractive, should take second place until that is you have exhausted the cabal of existing clients.

But above all when someone starts to wheel out a plethora of systems and ideas for new business development I would be inclined to push back and say that you would prefer to speak to your existing clients and understand their buying habits before you go looking for the bright lights of New cleints.

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