What’s the secret to developing great client relationships?
There isn’t one, single formula—every attorney, client, firm, and company will respond differently to different approaches.
I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know many providers and consumers of legal services and learned that although there isn’t a single formula, there are a few key ingredients: understanding your clients, building a great team brand, and excellent lawyering.
Understanding Your Clients
This is an important habit to cultivate for all new lawyers. Do the hard work and put in the time required to maintain relationships; go to social events or functions or attend trade organizations.
The decision to be available to assist clients on personal matters unrelated your practice will do a lot for your reputation as a trusted adviser who is remembered (more than staying up late, which, on the other hand, is expected). You are going to have to make some sacrifices with your time, but if you invest early and consistently, it will pay off in spades down the road.
Remember that law is a business built on relationships. It is important to know the law, but you also should make sure that clients trust you and have confidence in your ability to solve their problems. This means that you must be on the lookout for ways to build the relationship (and not only pay attention to maximizing your revenue).
Bonus tip for new lawyers: pick up the phone and make a call (don’t do everything through email). If you have a good relationship with a client, dial him or her up to see what is going on. You wouldn’t be satisfied with a date who only communicates with you via text or email—cultivate your relationship with your clients the same way. Spending time with clients increases the odds that they think of you, which increases the odds of them remembering to send you business.
Building A Great Team Brand
This means more than brochures or a slick pitch to prospective clients. You need to be prepared for the long race.
First, consider your internal and external efforts. Internally, realize that your team should operate together. That means taking the time to understand your (and your teammates’) function and role in the team, assessing and utilizing talent, and bringing it all together to provide excellent client services in a timely manner to resolve the most sensitive issues. Externally, learn about the trends affecting the legal industry and the industry of your clients. Stay on top of the trends that affect not just them but all of their competitors.
Second, make sure you get your (or your firm’s) name out there. A well-maintained blog, article, or speech kicks around in cyberspace and can serve as a permanent ad. Make efforts to speak on, and contribute to panels. Get involved with your community.
Finally, understand that a “great relationship” isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. As you meet people along your practice (whether you are doing a deal or working with opposing counsel), develop a relationship with everyone you work with so that they will remember your expertise and think of you for when they have referrals. Focus on the quality of work, of course—but remember that there are breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and other opportunities to connect.
Bottom line: you must do great work. You can get along great with everyone—but you should be able to roll up your sleeves and perform and produce the needed work.
This means taking the time to master your craft and being able to back you or your firm’s reputation as a thought leader in your or your firm’s field. You want clients who hire you to be happy and potential clients to wish you were their lawyer. Succeeding in attracting the clients you want when every other lawyer and law firm is competing for them also means that you can’t afford to rest on your laurels.
Remember that your clients are looking for more than legal knowledge. They want your experienced judgment and guidance.