Carolyn Roberson – director of CRC Consulting – asks: Clients – Our first priority … or do they see it differently?...

With all the news of merger, acquisition, pre-pack, lateral hiring and strategic developments of one kind or another among law firms, my heart goes out to partners and fee earners who are responsible for managing clients through the build-up, announcement and integration processes. Who said part of the job of a lawyer would be “sales manager”, “key account handler”, “diplomat” or even “administrator”?!

Undoubtedly, some law firms have become sophisticated and advanced in their marketing and communications of strategic changes concerning their businesses, often gaining clients’ buy-in before an announcement is actually made. However, for the vast majority of clients, research shows that there is room for improvement.

“Clients don’t want to see change”, “clients are happy with the team they currently have”, “clients will be concerned about costs going up if they meet more people or we try and sell other services to them”, and “clients don’t know the other firm/people” or “the other firm’s/people’s experience isn’t relevant to our clients” ….. are all phrases you may have spoken or heard.

True or false? Well, the answer from clients themselves is that they don’t want to see change for change’s sake … BUT … if a law firm they instruct announces significant strategic change or investment (e.g.: merger, acquisition, lateral hiring, new office, MBO, new services, etc) their thought processes go like this: “That’s my firm …. They say this is to benefit their clients … I’m a client … what are the benefits for my business?” If, after three, six or (worse still) 12 months the client still hasn’t met anyone ‘new’ or seen anything different, the thought processes then go like this: “I haven’t seen anything new or different or better… Clients other than my business/sector must have benefited…. Perhaps the firm isn’t committed to my type of business/sector…. I could have used the firm for x work if I had known they did it now they are larger/different ….Are there other firms more aligned to my business/sector I should be considering?”

My own experience, backed up by over 20 years’ working in professional services, is that client relationships can either blossom at times of strategic change or they can start to wither on the vine. In fact, everything I have said above can be applied to any client relationship day in, day out whether a strategic change is on the cards or not. Proactive client management is a core requirement for every business. Whether a merger, acquisition, pre-pack, lateral hire or simply as part of good business practice, here are three simple tips for any client-handling partners and fee earners reading this article:
• Who, apart from you, asks your clients what you do well (and not so well), sings your praises, and explores tomorrow’s opportunities with them? Tip: Risk assess your client relationships – and do it objectively.
• How much does each of your clients know about your business compared to how much they currently instruct you to do? Tip: CRC research shows that in virtually every client/law firm relationship, there are opportunities for more work among existing clients which go unnoticed (and often end up in competitors’ hands).
• What plans do your clients have for their businesses and what are the corresponding legal/professional services’ needs? Tip: Research shows that it’s easier to target a non-client for new business than do so with an existing client, sometimes resulting in ‘surprises’ for partners/fee earners when clients instruct another firm, tender all/part of their work or make an unknown move in their business. As a partner/fee earner, do you have a simple plan of action for each client and is there a summary of that business’s strategic intentions and how you could support them?

Back to the “day job” for you – and, for me, this is the “day job” and I love helping professionals win, retain and develop profitable long-term clients.

Carolyn Roberson works with professional services firms to retain profitable clients and win new business. Core services are: strategic planning for merger/ acquisition/MBO/lateral hiring and business planning (followed by integration/implementation), CRM and client feedback/satisfaction and training, and tendering and pitching.