A law firm’s most precious assets are its clients, which are the source of both today’s business and tomorrow’s referrals. Therefore, you’d think that firms would strive to integrate the voice of their clients into all they do.
Unfortunately, many law firms fail to adopt a client-centric mindset as they engage with their clients and prospects, which often leads to what I like to call lots of “random acts of marketing.”
...many law firms fail to adopt a client-centric mindset
The fundamental and critical elements of business development success include forming strong online and in-person relationships and providing exceptional client service at all times. Clients want to hire lawyers who make them feel good about themselves and who make them look good, both inside and outside their organizations.
As a legal marketing professional, your job is to assist lawyers to identify ways in which your firm can add value to a client/contact and solve an issue that they have or better yet, will have. This type of dedicated and proactive client service will enable your firm to be an exceptional legal service provider, and—if successful – to be viewed also as a trusted business advisor.
Here are eight ways to adopt a more client-centric mindset at your firm:
1. Ask your clients for feedback
Many lawyers don’t open the door to feedback because they’re afraid of what they might hear. Huge mistake! Asking clients how you’re doing and what you could do better (or more efficiently, or differently) should be a given. How else will you know for sure that you are hitting the mark in client service? Implement a formal and informal client feedback program and train your lawyers to ask clients the right questions at every step of a matter.
Perhaps even worse than not asking for feedback is not taking action when you receive it. You must act on it. Your goal is to become a client-centric law firm that not only collects client feedback but takes uses it to take prompt and effective action that can enhance the customer journey. So, ask away!
2. Become a true business partner
When buyers of legal services discuss what they value most in a provider, the desire for trust, predictability, truly understanding the client’s business, being proactive and being cost sensitive come up time and time again. The golden rule of customer service is always to treat your clients as you would want to be treated.
I might add to make your client feel like they are your only client. This is not rocket science, but rather client service basics that often fall by the wayside when we are busy. Job number one is to consistently over-deliver in these areas.
3. Know your client's business inside and out
Stay attuned to major developments and news affecting your clients. It will enable you to better anticipate their needs and be a smarter legal solution provider. Take the time to do some marketing due diligence on a few VIP clients as well as a prospect. Learn their businesses inside and out. What challenges and opportunities are they facing? Sometimes all you need to do is ask them.
Set up Google Alerts on your clients and prospects – this will provide valuable information and give you reasons to reach out to them to congratulate them on a success, or send an article that touches on a legal issue they might be facing. Use this intelligence to reach out to those individuals in your network who you’ve been meaning to contact. Such timely touchpoints enable you to stay top of mind with important connections.
4. Cultivate your network every day
More than 90% of those making hiring decisions draw on information from people they know. Think about what that says about the importance of your firm’s and lawyers’ professional networks in the referral process. Also, in-house counsel regularly hire outside counsel whom they know and trust – from law school, a prior firm, a friend of a friend, or a past matter. Why not let it be your lawyers who receive these referrals? Nurturing relationships is vital to business development success. Encourage your lawyers to keep in touch with former colleagues, past clients, alumni from law school and undergraduate schools.
Enhance these relationships with a combination of in-person and online networking (LinkedIn being the place where professionals convene and interact). Also, don’t underestimate the importance of every connection. Each person you meet is potentially someone who is in or will be in a position to help you down the line as a prospective employer, employee, referral, reference, source of business or even your opponents.
I have seen several instances where lawyers have gotten new clients based on the way they handled themselves during a heated negotiation. In essence, the client said, I want that person on my side the next time I have an issue. So, be fair, helpful and kind to everyone. Because you never know.
5. Give before you get
The days of taking a client out for lunch, a drink or a sports event are dwindling. While in-person interactions remain vital, clients are no different than your lawyers and are getting pulled in many directions both professionally and personally. As a result, many prefer to interact with their outside counsel through touchpoints that enable law firms and lawyers to demonstrate how they provide value to them – which offers an opportunity to showcase their legal prowess.
This type of reputational marketing often has a much stronger impact than any concert or fancy dinner, so perhaps offer a CLE program or send a relevant article with a note about why they should care about this development. Or, even better, co-author an article with them, invite them to speak on a panel, or offer them a free pass to a conference your firm is sponsoring. Invest in your clients in a way that provides something of value to them.
6. Show vs. tell
What communications resonate most with clients? Tailored, value-added and easily digestible client alerts and newsletters with engaging and to-the-point subject lines (from the law firms they actually use). Ensure that these communications are client-focused – and there’s more show than tell in the approach. Demonstrate that you are the very best lawyer or law firm by showcasing your legal expertise and unique value proposition. These “light touches” keep your firm top of mind with your professional contacts and can often lead to new business, or at the very least, help you elevate your lawyers to be seen as subject-matter experts.
7. Communicate strategically and thoughtfully
Another important note on content – the information you send to clients and prospects should be sent strategically and sparingly. Segment your mailing lists and analyze engagement and open rates. Many firms are taking a "random acts of content" approach to their strategy, a waste of time for everyone, most importantly, the prospect or client. Use the power offered by your email marketing software and social media analytics. Play the role of the client and think about what you would like to receive and how often if you were them. If you always put yourself in your clients' shoes, you will always be on the right path.
8. Don’t play the guessing game
Make sure your clients know exactly who is on their legal team at every stage of their matter. Provide multiple points of contact for clients and make it easy for them to get to know everyone on their team – from paralegals, to associates and partners.
Here’s a novel client-centric idea – create a handy reference guide for your VIP clients, with photos, contact information and short bios of each person working on their matters. Include LinkedIn URLs of each person and their undergraduate and law school information – again, this approach will help to find commonalities and connection touchpoints. If appropriate, include a fun fact about each person as an ice breaker. Email this information to clients as a branded PDF or even laminate it and send hard copies for easy reference.
You’d be surprised how far something like this will go in showing the client just how much you value your relationship with them and how you strive to make their lives easier.
It’s never been more important to adopt a client-centric approach to everything you do as a law firm in this competitive and saturated market. The idea is to invest in your clients in a way that allows your firm and lawyers to showcase their knowledge and experience. Remember, by making your client look good at their companies, you make your firm look good and you will elevate your position and value within the organization. This approach is a win-win for all involved. So going forward, follow through, put the client first and do what they ask you to do. That is key to delighting the client and building long-lasting attorney-client relationships. This is how to become a trusted business advisor in the client's inner circle – and how to separate yourself from the competition.
[With more than 15 years of experience in professional services marketing, Stefanie Marrone leads the business development, marketing and communications functions for full-service, mid-size law firm Tarter Krinsky & Drogin LLP. She has worked at some of the most prominent law firms in the world, developing and executing global revenue generating, business development, internal and external communications strategies, including media relations, branding, content marketing and corporate journalism, and multi-channel content marketing and thought leadership campaigns. She is currently the secretary of the LMA Northeast Region and is a frequent speaker and published author.]