If you had the chance to gain insights directly from your clients, wouldn't you seize every moment? And better yet, implement those insights? With this thought, I consistently attend events spotlighting in-house counsel.
Their repeated messages resonate, emphasizing the importance of understanding their primary expectations from outside counsel: transparency, responsiveness, cost-awareness, business acumen, proactive solutions and delivering added value through insightful content.
Yet, surprisingly, not all firms manage to meet these expectations seamlessly. Clients are the lifeblood of any law firm, driving current business and shaping future referrals.
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. But not all of them do, or maybe they try but just can't.
Law firms always need to remember that their clients do not need to work with them. They need to want to work with them. And it is all within the power of law firms (and their lawyers) to achieve true client satisfaction and long-term loyalty by providing the highest-quality legal services, quickly resolving client issues, being a fierce client advocate who anticipates and solves problems and consistently adding value at every stage of the client relationship.
To stay competitive in this dynamic landscape, law firms need to prioritize a client-first approach in every interaction – from the initial greeting at the reception desk to the meticulousness of monthly billing and every email sent. Every single touchpoint matters and will be remembered, and a misstep can be very costly.
Every interaction counts, leaves an impression, and any oversight can carry significant repercussions. The following are insights gleaned from client-centric panels that I hope will guide you in enhancing and enriching attorney-client relationships within your firm.
Here are some ideas from panels I’ve attended featuring the voice of the client that I hope inspire you on how to enhance attorney/client relationships at your firm.
- Ask for feedback and act on it. I’ve gone to multiple panels where the in-counsel speakers said that they were not asked often enough to provide feedback to their outside law firms and would welcome the opportunity to provide input and suggestions in either a formal or informal manner. Asking your clients how you’re doing and what you could be doing better/differently should be a no brainer. Your clients want to provide feedback – it’s that simple! Requesting feedback enables you to acquire deeper insights to ensure that you are exceeding expectations and delivering value. Many firms don’t solicit feedback because they are afraid of what their clients will say when asked – yikes. Then go a step further and take real action based on the responses received. Remember, your goal is to enhance the customer journey and do what you can to ensure that your clients are satisfied and remain with your firm.
- Prompt replies are non-negotiable. In today's fast-paced environment, clients anticipate a response from their external legal teams in under 24 hours. Even if you're swamped or need more time to address their query, a simple acknowledgment of their message is essential. It's crucial to ensure your clients always feel valued and prioritized. Letting communications go unanswered is a misstep you can't afford.
- Be likeable. Guess what? It’s not enough to just be a great lawyer anymore. You must also be likeable. Luckily for most lawyers out there, this isn’t a problem. So, make an effort to connect with your clients and contacts on a deeper level. Show that you genuinely care about them. Ask questions about their interests and personal lives. Actively listen to them and talk less about yourself. Give genuine compliments. People want to do business with people they like, period. Building deeper relationships is important to long-term success and client loyalty. Paraphrasing Rihanna aim to make each of your clients feel like they’re the only person in the world.
- Invest in your clients and offer them something that enables you to showcase your expertise too. When it comes to social interactions with outside counsel, the trend is leaning toward educational, substantive events versus social events. Your clients are busy individuals who are getting pulled in many different directions both professionally and personally, as a result some prefer to build relationships with their outside counsel through educational touchpoints that have the added benefit of enabling law firms and lawyers to demonstrate their value. This type of reputational marketing has a much stronger impact than any concert or fancy dinner. Offer to provide a CLE program for them, to co-author an article with them or to invite them to speak on a panel with you. Invest in your clients in a way that will showcase your talents and will further cement the relationship.
- Cultivate lasting connections and offer value. Many in-house counsels often turn to outside attorneys they've known over the years—whether it's someone from law school, a previous firm, mutual acquaintances, or past cases. The takeaway? Deepening and maintaining relationships is crucial for success in private legal practice. The source of your next client or referral could be unexpected, so regularly engage with former peers, past clients, and academic alumni. Strengthen these bonds through a mix of face-to-face and digital networking. Also, proactively identify areas where you can offer specialized knowledge that could benefit clients or prospects, like a pivotal change in the law affecting their sector. Share pertinent articles or legislative updates, or even draft an advisory note on the subject. Personalize your communication by emphasizing its relevance to them. This strategy not only establishes you as a dependable business consultant but also amplifies your reputation as an industry expert.
- LinkedIn is KING. The primary social media channel used by your clients is LinkedIn, and even if you think they’re not looking at your profiles and content, trust me, they are. They may not be engaging with it, but they are viewing it in “invisible user” or listen-only mode. In terms of how your clients use LinkedIn, they are using it both to connect with individuals and to find useful content related to their industry/legal issues. Make LinkedIn part of your marketing priorities today. Here are two articles I wrote on creating your personal LinkedIn strategy: “Build a Stronger Professional Network Today with These LinkedIn To-Do’s” and “LinkedIn 101: How to Master Profile Basics & Build Your Professional Brand.”
- Ensure impeccable billing practices. Every invoice from your law firm should be thorough and double-checked by the lead billing attorney. Clients meticulously assess monthly invoices from their external law firms, and inconsistencies can strain the attorney/client bond. Billings should clearly outline all tasks undertaken during the month. If clients find ambiguities in the bills, it can lead to doubts about the collaboration, prompting them to explore other legal service options.
- Think show vs. tell when it comes to content. What communications resonate most with clients? Tailored, timely, relevant and easily digestible electronic client alerts and newsletters that are “snackable” in length with succinct 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. These “light touches” keep your firm top of mind with professional contacts and can often lead to new business, or at the very least, help elevate your lawyers as subject-matter experts. In addition, consider including case studies on your web site and in newsletters. They can help in-house counsel understand your firm’s experience in solving specific problems that they may be facing themselves.
- 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, which is 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.
- Take the time to personalize. Personalization is one of the biggest factors on whether clients look at marketing materials sent by law firms (newsletters, client alerts, etc.) and they are much more likely to read content from those law firms they use and trust. Interestingly, most of the in-house counsel panelists said they don’t even open emails from law firms they don’t currently use, including those from the most prestigious firms. Someone asked the question of why they didn’t just unsubscribe from those lists and one in-house counsel panelist said that while she may not read the alerts from the firms she doesn’t use she still wants to know what they are writing about so she knows what she should care about.
- Prioritize client-centric service. Ensuring you have a robust team of lawyers for future endeavors is crucial. Clients appreciate knowing their legal team members and often desire multiple touchpoints with their outside counsel. They value understanding the full team composition, and at times, prefer direct interactions with associates for more cost-efficient tasks. Consistency and transparency are key. In-house counsel emphasize the importance of regular, monthly updates detailing all ongoing matters, including current status, jurisdiction, stage of the case, hours billed, fees and more. Despite its significance, many firms either overlook these reports or produce ones that aren't tailored to client needs. Offering customized, straightforward status reports can set a firm apart from its competitors.
- Always avoid surprises. No client likes surprises when it comes to something on their matter going off schedule, a missed deadline or another human error on the part of their outside counsel or just something not going according to plan. You can avoid these by regularly communicating, setting expectations, implementing project management tools, putting strong people on the team, letting the client know right away when an issue arises and accepting full responsibility when something goes sideways.
- Know your clients’ businesses inside and out. Stay attuned to major developments and news affecting your clients so you can better anticipate needs and become a smarter legal solution provider. What challenges and opportunities are they facing? Show that you care and will go above and beyond for them by setting up Google Alerts on your top clients. Not only will this will provide valuable information to help you serve them better, but it will also give you reasons to reach out to them to congratulate them on successes or send an article that touches on a legal issue they might be facing. Information is power here, so use it wisely.
- Optimize your speaking engagements. Speaking at conferences remains a vital method for attorneys to gain visibility and attract potential clients. As expressed by an in-house counsel, attending conferences is akin to scouting for competent outside counsel. Thus, every speaking opportunity should be seen as a chance not only to share knowledge but to connect and network. One particular instance highlighted the importance of this - an in-house counsel was impressed by a Big Law partner's panel presentation. Eager to discuss potential collaboration, the in-house counsel discovered the partner had left the event prematurely, bypassing numerous networking opportunities. Such instances underscore the value of maximizing conference engagements beyond just the presentation itself.
- Legal directories really don't matter to clients. While legal directories like Chambers and Legal 500 are often highlighted in marketing efforts, the reality is that they don't play a significant role in a client's decision to hire outside counsel. The hours we invest in these submissions as legal marketing professionals might not directly influence a client's choice. However, these rankings are not entirely without value. They act as a form of third-party validation, enhancing PR, branding efforts and aiding in the recruitment of law students and lateral hires. It's essential to understand that these accolades often hold more weight within the legal community than with the clients themselves.
- Embrace technology: As digital transformation becomes ubiquitous across industries, clients expect their legal partners to be technologically savvy. Adopting case management software, using e-discovery tools, or leveraging AI-driven research can help improve efficiency and show clients that you're forward-thinking.
- Diversity and inclusion is very important: Clients are increasingly looking at the diversity of the teams that serve them. Ensuring that your firm prioritizes diversity and inclusion can send a strong positive signal to clients about your values.
- Transparent pricing is key: In today's competitive market, clients are not just looking for quality legal services but also transparency in billing. Clients deeply appreciate clarity in financial dealings. Offering alternative fee arrangements—such as flat fees, retainer agreements, or capped billing—can cater to different client needs. Providing clear, detailed estimates upfront, avoiding hidden costs, and regularly updating clients on billing matters ensures there are no unexpected surprises. This open approach to pricing not only builds trust but also fosters long-term relationships and client loyalty.
- Stay in touch: Proactive communication is key to nurturing client relationships. Even in the absence of significant updates or changes, a brief check-in or message can have a profound impact. Regularly share news, insights or simple progress reports about a case or matter. Such gestures, though seemingly small, signal your commitment and diligence. By maintaining this consistent transparency, you not only keep your clients informed but also underscore their importance, reinforcing trust and establishing a stronger connection with them.
- Offer customized training: Extend your services by providing tailored training sessions for your client's in-house teams, focusing on regulatory shifts, pertinent legal subjects, or emerging challenges in their industry. By facilitating these educational opportunities, you not only showcase your depth of knowledge but also position your firm as an active partner in their business growth and adaptability, reinforcing trust and enhancing mutual understanding.
- Offer value-add services: Consider offering services that extend beyond just traditional legal counsel. This could encompass areas like risk management strategies, strategic consulting, regulatory compliance guidance, and even industry-specific workshops or training sessions. By integrating these services, you position your firm as a holistic solution provider, not just a legal resource, thereby deepening client trust and fostering longer-term relationships.
- Prioritize clear communication: Legal jargon can often be intimidating and confusing for clients who aren't well-versed in the law. It's crucial to communicate in a manner that's both precise and accessible. While lawyers are adept at detailed, comprehensive writing, it's essential to distill complex concepts into simpler terms for your clients. Aim to explain legal scenarios and implications without resorting to legalese. By ensuring your messages are both transparent and relatable, you position yourself not just as a lawyer, but as a trusted, approachable advisor who understands and respects their client's perspective.
- Seek and act on feedback: Don't just solicit feedback – create processes that loop feedback into action. This iterative process can help in consistently refining and improving your services based on client needs.
- Be proactive: As you understand more about a client's business, proactively suggest strategies or legal considerations they might not have thought of, based on current market conditions or legal developments. Anticipate potential challenges or risks that may arise in the future and advise clients on preventive measures. By being a step ahead and offering solutions before problems arise, you position yourself not just as a service provider, but as a trusted business advisor who is genuinely invested in the client's success.
- Host client-centric events: Host client appreciation events, workshops or seminars tailored to their interests and relevant to their industry. This not only solidifies the relationship but provides an informal platform for feedback, relationship-building and showcasing your firm's expertise. Ensure that these events address real-time challenges faced by your clients and facilitate peer-to-peer networking opportunities. By creating value-packed experiences, clients feel acknowledged and are more likely to regard your firm as a strategic partner rather than just a service provider.
- Educate clients on data security: With increasing concerns about data breaches and privacy, educate your clients on how you protect their information and the steps you take for cybersecurity.
- Be accessible: Consider offering various communication channels like video conferencing, messaging apps or dedicated client portals for document sharing and updates. The easier you are to reach, the more valued clients feel.
- Collaborate with others: Sometimes, legal issues intersect with other fields, such as finance, human resources, public relations, technology and real estate. Engaging in proactive collaboration with experts from these areas not only enhances the depth and breadth of your legal advice but also underscores a comprehensive understanding of your client's broader business ecosystem. This interdisciplinary teamwork can yield innovative solutions, seamlessly integrating legal strategies with other key business considerations. Such collaboration not only strengthens your service offering but also demonstrates a proactive commitment to addressing every facet of a client's challenge.
- Give back: Doing pro bono work for causes aligned with your client's values or industry can reflect positively on your firm's commitment and ethics. Additionally, getting involved in community outreach, supporting local charities, or offering legal clinics can demonstrate a genuine investment in the well-being of the community. This not only strengthens your firm's reputation but also fosters deeper relationships with clients who see that you share common values and are dedicated to making a positive impact.
- Stay updated: The legal field is ever evolving. Regularly updating your skills and knowledge can show clients that you're at the forefront of your field and can provide the best advice. Attend workshops, webinars, and conferences; engage with recent publications and research; and participate in legal forums or discussions. Demonstrating a commitment to continuous learning and being informed about the latest legal developments can instill confidence in clients, assuring them that they're receiving cutting-edge counsel.
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. There are many firms just waiting to steal your clients from you. Don’t give them the opportunity by falling short in client service. Become a fierce advocate for your clients – the business partner that sets the bar higher than anyone else and the firm they just can’t ever quit.
You can do this by investing in your clients in a way that enables 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. 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 when they ask you to do it. That is how you delight the client and build long-lasting attorney-client relationships. This is also how to become a trusted business advisor in the client’s inner circle – and how to separate yourself from the competition.
- Feedback Matters: Solicit feedback regularly and implement changes accordingly. Clients want to give their perspective.
- Quick Response: Acknowledge client communications within 24 hours or less.
- Build Genuine Relationships: Beyond being a great lawyer, be personable and genuinely connect with your clients.
- Educational Engagement: Clients value educational interactions more than purely social ones. Offer learning opportunities like CLE programs.
- Cultivate Relationships: Building and maintaining relationships over the years can lead to consistent referrals and work opportunities.
- LinkedIn's Power: Use LinkedIn actively for networking and sharing relevant content. Clients are silently observing.
- Transparent Billing: Ensure clarity and accuracy in every bill to maintain trust.
- Strategic Communication: Send tailored, timely, and relevant client alerts and newsletters that showcase more of what you can do rather than merely stating it.
- Personalize Outreach: Tailored marketing materials based on a client's needs and interests have a greater impact.
- Be Proactive: Offer user-friendly matter status reports and maintain multiple points of contact for the client.
- Avoid Unexpected Setbacks: Use communication and project management tools to minimize unforeseen problems.
- Deep Business Knowledge: Stay updated with your client's business environment, challenges, and opportunities.
- Maximize Conferences: Make the most of every speaking engagement and networking opportunity at conferences.
- Relevance of Legal Directories: While they might not heavily influence hiring decisions, they can serve other branding and PR purposes.
- Adopt a Client-centric Approach: In a saturated market, put your clients at the forefront to ensure long-term loyalty.
In conclusion, a client-centric approach isn't just a strategy—it's a commitment. In a world saturated with choices, what sets a firm apart is its dedication to seeing through the eyes of its clients, anticipating their needs and consistently delivering beyond their expectations. By truly valuing, understanding and catering to your clients, you're not just providing a service; you're building an enduring legacy. This is the cornerstone upon which long-lasting relationships are forged, ensuring your firm stands resilient in an ever-evolving legal landscape.
Stefanie Marrone advises law firms of all sizes, professional service firms, B2B companies, recruiters and individuals on the full range of marketing and business development consulting services designed to enhance revenue, retain current clients and achieve greater brand recognition. She also serves as outsourced chief marketing officer/marketing department for small and mid-size law firms.
Over her 20+-year legal marketing career, she has worked at and with a broad range of big law, mid-size and small firms, which has given her a valuable perspective of the legal industry. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, sign up for her email list and follow her latest writing on JD Supra.