As an accountant now enjoying the wonderful world of law firm management (and particularly law firm client management), I have found a mission that could win business now and for the long term. I think that we have a hidden skill that is bought everyday by businesses the length and breadth of the country – but rarely from lawyers – which is worth sharing.
Lawyers are all too often content to play second fiddle to other advisors – especially in the competitive mid-market corporate and commercial arena. That status-quo might not come with a choice as there are, of course, many great advisers to businesses out there who are trusted ‘partners’. They often have the luxury of regular/recurring work and a trust that has been built up over many years.
So, the first question is: Is there an inevitability about this supporting role? Personally, I think not as there are equally as many potential clients who aren’t getting the business advice they need, and who will happily pay for it. This leads me onto the second question: Are law firms equipped to deliver? In my view; yes we are, but only if we understand that we have to change one fundamental if we want to gain this success.
Let me explain…. the vast majority of the people working in the legal profession are guided to only focus their excellence on detailed and narrow fields of expertise. Please don’t get hung up on the words as you may not think that property matters (or IP, or employment, or litigation) are narrow at all – but business leaders do. I wouldn’t dispute that most companies need precise expertise but what they really really want is a wider perspective; a peripheral vision; a view over the wall. We forget just how isolated even the most successful organisations can be, with boxed experience and little vision of the alternatives.
In my opinion, they crave a broad knowledge and we have that as we work with different kinds of clients across a multitude of sectors. We also have insight into their leaders’ lives as they tell us their objectives and goals, their hopes and fears, and how they’re going to make their strategies a practical proposition. If we store that in our minds, we shouldn’t waste it.
Any poll of business leaders will tell you the thing they most want from their advisers is to be understood; completely and as a whole, rather than in technical fragments. Lawyers who fulfil this holistic role will leapfrog to the front of the queue and will become the first call that’s made when business advice is needed.
So, what’s stopping this being the norm? Well, the answer’s simple: the fear of a conversation without an agenda; a discussion without a particular legal product or service in mind. Just having an understanding of what the client wants to do with their business and their lives is what’s needed.
Clients have more knowledge than you ever will about the depth and detail of their business – but on the flip side, you know more about the breadth of their possibilities because you’ve seen them already somewhere else. It’s simply called experience, and it’s worth its weight in gold.