Seven Keys to Retaining Your Clients
Focusing on your current clients will help you as well as them.
by Gerry Riskin
This article could equally well be called, "How to prevent your competitors from stealing your clients." It's not that these other lawyers lack ethics, values and courtesy. It's just that as practices diminish, revenues have to be obtained somewhere to support the firm and its employees. The bottom line is that others may have your clients in their crosshairs. So what are you supposed to do about this? Here are seven suggestions:
- Over-communicate with your clients. This means, for example, learning about their businesses and their personal lives in some depth, managing their expectations, quoting fees or special fee arrangements, keeping them up to date so they never have to wonder about the status of their matters.
- Get a retainer up front. Your clients know they have to pay you. They would rather manage the cash flow than get a surprise at the end of six months. If you feel awkward asking for money, relax: that comes from your socialization. When you summon the courage to allow the client to provide retainers, you'll be surprised to learn that most won't mind and some will even appreciate it. (Your receivables will thank you and your write-offs will give you a standing ovation.)
- Project effort. This means opening the curtain that conceals what you're actually doing for your clients. (Lawyers don't intentionally conceal their work: what they are doing just seems so natural to them that they don't see the point in telling the clients all the steps involved.) On highly complex matters, give clients a one-page executive briefing that lays out the nature of the steps that are involved, and tell them you will report if their matter varies from this protocol.
- Master the art of imperfection. You were likely so bullied in law school and by the lawyers with whom you practiced in your early career that you think you must have the right answer or somehow you are not worthy. The truth is that your job is to know how to find the answer or to make a great guess ... not to always be right. So when your client asks a question you don't know the answer to, confess that you need to do some more digging; perhaps even admit the fallibility of your recommendation.
- Treat your colleagues and staff with exemplary respect. It is not charming or humorous when you put each other down, especially a member of the support team. This is the way insecure and cowardly people act, and is not the impression you want to give. On the contrary, showing profound respect for your colleagues and team will enhance the confidence your client has both in you and in those with whom you work.
- Let your clients know that you think about them between matters. I have it on good authority (first-hand research) that clients think that lawyers are reasonably attentive during the course of an ongoing matter, but that they forget that their clients exist between matters. Set up a Google Alert or some other means of watching the progress of your clients, whether individual or business. Congratulate them on achievements or express concerns about setbacks. You might even remember personal occasions if appropriate. Distinguish yourself from the stereotype of lawyers: make it clear that you care about your clients beyond the revenue you generate from them.
- Manage Your Practice. A disdain for technology and efficiency is not charming at all anymore. Your clients expect and deserve prompt and efficient service and as mentioned in Point 3, above, they expect to see evidence of it. Relationships are still extremely important but not sufficient to overcome unreliable service. There are still some lawyers who suffer from the self-deception that quality speaks for itself. It does not. It must be projected. Worse, slow or unreliable communications imply terrible quality.
|Trust: A Key Building Block for Leadership|
Even good leaders make mistakes. Trusted leaders get a second chance.
Working on recent strategy assignments, I had the good fortune to work with some outstanding leaders. A common characteristic in each case was a natural sense of comfort and trust by partners and staff in their leader.
The interesting thing was that in every instance the recent track records of the leaders and the firms had been anything but perfect. Mistakes had been made, performance had not been everything that everyone desired and there was general agreement that improvement was required.
Instead of picking on the leader, calling for change, or being critical, partners seemed to exercise a remarkable patience, restraint and quiet confidence that "things would be sorted out" and the firm would soon get back on track. On reflection I soon realised that at the heart of this was a sense of trust in the leader. As we know even good leaders make mistakes - the key ingredient though is that trusted leaders get a second chance to put them right.
At first blush it would seem to be obvious that trust should be a fundamental characteristic of leadership. In practice however it is sometimes a 'background factor': it is to some extent taken for granted and is not given proper weight. Seldom does one hear trust mentioned or enquired about when leadership candidates are being considered. I guess it is almost too obvious - other topics seem to get precedence. Perhaps it is also because in the case of most other leadership characteristics you look at the leader to assess them; when it comes to trust you need to assess what others think.
Having been involved over the years in many discussions with firms around leadership, and in some cases assisted with identification of new leaders with clients, this reminded me that this characteristic of underlying trust in the prime firm leader is not always given the credence and weighting it deserves. Possibly partners feel 'he/she is a partner and of course will be trusted'.
If we do accept that trust is a fundamentally important characteristic of leadership, as I believe we should, it has real implications for firms seeking new leaders and for those wishing to develop leadership amongst partners:
- in the first instance I suspect that once firms put due weight on the critical need for trust that it will result in few if any external appointments to key leadership roles;
- it will narrow the field and fewer internal candidates will make the short list;
- it also means that particular care should be exercised in relation to senior support service management appointments; due to the nature of these roles there are invariably few if any potential internal candidates for such roles. So firms will be dealing with unknown people and qualifications in relation to trust. This should be carefully flushed out in interviews and reference checks;
- very careful thought will need to be given to emphasising the capacity to build trust during any leadership development and training programs. While trust can't easily be learned there are some obvious dos and don'ts if a potential leader wants to build trust amongst his or her peers. These should be explained and highlighted (see some examples below).
One of the key things leaders need to bear in mind about trust, and themselves being trusted, is that to build it, they must trust others. As Ernest Hemingway once said, "The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them." The other important thing about trust is that once there, it builds respect and loyalty, two further pillars of good leadership.
In brief, what are some of the things leaders or potential leaders should bear in mind in regard to building trust - this should also assist firms to determine the issue in relation to potential candidates. Does he or she:
- tend to place trust in others e.g. by not micro-managing them?
- take a genuine interest in the personal and professional well-being of others (in some cases ahead of their own)?
- communicate openly and frankly and listen sincerely?
- front up when they make mistakes or slip up?
- exhibit high levels of EQ (emotional intelligence)?
- not agree with others 'just to keep the peace'?
- take the trouble to get out and meet and talk to and listen to others?
- find opportunities to state their views and share some of their innermost thoughts?
- do what they say - being consistent?
- deliver what they promise - being reliable?
Contact the author, Sean Larkan
Notes on the New Year - 2014
We are well into a "change or die" era of legal service delivery.
by Pam Woldow
A young American follower of Shinryu Suzuki, the famed founder of the San Francisco Zen Center, was bewildered by the Master's abstruse, fractured-English lectures. He finally asked Suzuki if he could summarize the essence of Zen Buddhism in a single paragraph. After pausing for thought, Suzuki smiled at his student. "Everything changes," he said.
Welcome to the Land of Change in 2014... and Beyond
As many of you know, at Edge I have tended to focus on the continuing evolution of Legal Project Management (LPM), a discipline reshaping the face of legal service delivery. The year 2014 will see the continued acceleration of trends that are fundamentally changing how law firms and legal departments think about and implement LPM. First of all, because LPM has achieved baseline acceptance and entered the common vernacular, firms will talk less about whether to embrace LPM, but more about how to best embrace it. The pace of change will soon pass foot-draggers by.
New Game, New Players, New Equipment
Second, the two-party system - law firms and clients - is rapidly giving way to a matrixed service-delivery environment that includes a bevy of new and specialized contributors, most notably legal process outsourcing (LPO) firms here and abroad. Clients and law firms are having new kinds of conversations centering around the question, "Will all the legal work be done in the firm?" Increasingly, the answer will be no; savvy clients now are partnering with a variety of vendors wherever their use can help manage or cut costs. This requires law firms to get comfortable with collaborating with outside contributors and vendors they may not fully control (and obviously may not bill for, either). The impact on both planning and profitability is going to be significant, but there is little choice: we are well into a change or die era of legal service delivery.
Third, the rise of new types of service vendors is being paralleled by a dizzying array of new LPM-specific software, platforms, products, dashboards and tools, both to help introduce LPM and, where appropriate, to enable enormously sophisticated project planning and management capability. These products will take some time to shake out in a competitive marketplace, but already best practices are getting better, and new LPM tools are vastly improved over prior generations.
Shift to "Vertical" Training
Fourth, LPM implementation and training are changing direction and content. Large-scale introductory-level "horizontal" LPM training programs are giving way to more "granular" skills-building workshops targeted to particular clients, client teams or even particular matters or engagements. This "vertical" approach to training will continue to trend toward deep dives, rather than skimming the surface. Increased focus on learning optimal project planning, staffing, and workflow means that the line between legal project management (LPM) and legal process improvement (LPI) will blur, and the two disciplines will join at the hip.
The corollary to this trend is that not every lawyer, paralegal or other time-biller will (or should) receive LPM training, at least not initially. Right now, LPM implementation is best focused on those who need it the most (because of client demands for increased value) or want it the most.
In sum, by this time next year legal service delivery will have become less firm-driven, more client-driven, more collaborative and more complicated. More players will contend for a piece of the pie, and more tasks are likely to be taken out of the hands of lawyers and assigned to innovative forms of service delivery as clients become still more vocal in their demands for value, efficiency and predictability.
Contact the author, Pamela Woldow
Legal League Consulting, LLC
Delhi and Mumbai,
|At The Podium: Upcoming Appearances by Edge Partners |
Gerry Riskin Jan 09
LMA Los Angeles Chapter
Downtown - live presentation
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP
633 West Fifth Street, Suite 5000
Los Angeles, CA 90071
Register to attend via videoconference >>
Jordan Furlong Feb 27
Association of Legal Administrators, Puget Sound Chapter
Jordan Furlong Apr 02
Legal Marketing Association Annual Conference
Jordan Furlong Apr 27
LESA Litigation Refresher
Lake Louise, AB
OCTOBER 2014Gerry Riskin Oct 17
Keynote Presentation, Annual Futures Conference
College of Law Practice Management