This two-part article defines the specific and best actions lawyers and law firms can take to expand client relationships. The first part, which described actions individual lawyers can take to expand client relationships, was published last month. This second part covers what law firms as institutions can do to help the firm’s departments, practice groups, teams and lawyers expand client relationships.
It is well-established that it takes much more time, money and effort to get a brand-new client in the door than it does to get more work from an existing client, where a relationship of trust is already established. Yet, for a variety of reasons, many law firms and lawyers struggle to effectively cross-sell or cross-service (defined as expanding the type or amount of work done for any individual client). In fact, Michael Rynowecer says “BTI research reveals the typical law firm has only 23% of a client’s work available to them” and “clients often wonder why law firms and lawyers don’t spend more time and effort trying to get more of their business.”
On a practical level, what are the best, most-proven things law firms and law firm leaders can do to support the firm’s efforts to expand client relationships?
If the lawyers in your firm have not been trained regarding how to ask the questions discussed in the prior section, doing so can generate momentum and results.
If your law firm has not analyzed its key clients over the past three to five years, doing so is critical. For each key client (or a select few to start with as a pilot), create a work history by practice group, along with revenue trends and financial analysis, a relationship and an outreach matrix. Analyze this information to identify the best ways and opportunities to enhance and expand each key client relationship.
Studies show that only about half of law firms have a formalized Key Client Team program in operation within their firms. If your firm already has a firmwide Key Client Program in place, take the time to assess and evaluate it. Ask the team leaders how it is going, what can be done differently or better, and what additional support they might want or need.
If your firm does not yet have a formal, firmwide Key Client Program in place, make it a priority to create one. Start small, with a pilot, and focus on the firm lawyers who are most interested in and willing to collaborate, share and act upon strategic actions designed to maintain and expand their key client relationships. Collaboration is key to success. An example of a beneficial activity is to invite your client to attend the client team meetings (whether in person, video conference or by phone). Bringing the client into a conversation with attorneys from all practice areas that impact the client’s business demonstrates commitment. Rich Bracken, Director of Coaching for Society 54, has led such a program and witnessed success in growing the trust, connections and the business with a large client. “By gathering the experts in your firm that can help troubleshoot and assist a client with their business goals and industry strategy, you’re basically providing them with the optimal concierge experience from your firm. In listening to the client’s concerns and where their business needs to go, you can move quicker to serve the client and put their mind at ease. That unified front of service is a game changer for the relationship.”
Assess client-facing firmwide features, resources and available tools, and then consider upgrades. What does your firm offer over and above the relationship with the lawyer(s) working on each key client’s matters?
Almost every major law firm offers common, complimentary and now somewhat staid “value adds” to key clients. Many are staid because almost every major law firm offers them, so doing so no longer makes a firm stand out as distinctly different, better, faster or more cost-effective. Examples of these common value adds that are required as the “price of admission to even compete” are listed below:
- Firm hospitality offers, including event access, tickets, meals and periodic entertainment.
- Firm diversity and inclusion data, programs and initiatives.
- Newsletters, alerts and other publications relevant to the client’s needs/business.
- Seminars, workshops, CLEs and other training sessions.
- Budgets for case(s), transaction(s) or matter(s).
- Fixed or flat fees for case(s), transaction(s) or matter(s).
- Secure private portals or extranets, which may include access to a private, secure or custom docket, case or precedent and/or document databases hosted, built or used by the firm.
- Complimentary quarterly or annual check-ins to review results and services.
- No markups charged to clients for out-of-pocket costs the firm spends on behalf of the client.
- Complimentary access to and use of firm resources and/or firm employees, such as librarians, researchers, public relations representatives and others.
A few firms are going above and beyond the commonly offered price of admission value adds listed above by creating and offering features and benefits that add more value from the clients’ perspective. Here are some specific examples.
Investing In Centralized Up-to-Date Technology. Law firms and their clients must be able to leverage their data in order to enhance client relationships. One way to do that efficiently is to use advanced software and artificial intelligence. For example, 96 of the Global 100 law firms and more than 1,000 other law and professional services firms are now using Intapp’s seamless platform to streamline, manage and analyze their firm’s data in order to enhance client relationships and win more business. As Dan Tacone, president of Intapp, says: “Our platform provides a common data-rich view of each step in the entire lifecycle of a client, deal, case or matter. This data fuels more productive attorney-client collaboration and communication around current relationships and new work.”
Common Software and Systems. Either the firm as a whole, the key client team or practice group buys the same matter management, case, docket, document and/or contract management systems the key client has. Or, the firm provides theirs to the client, with programs existing systems to sync up or otherwise harmonize, so the key client is fully automated on secure, online platforms with the firm.
For example, many leading private equity, venture capital and other institutional investment companies (all of whom hire and use law firms regularly) have been successfully using Deal Cloud for years (which is Intapp’s latest addition to their platform). Now, some leading law firms who serve these types of clients are also using it.
Annual Flat or Fixed Fees for All or Certain Types of Legal Work. Increasingly, law firms are offering key clients an annual flat or fixed-fee agreement for all outside legal work done for the client by the firm. These agreements take time to initiate and calculate in a win-win manner, and are usually renegotiated annually. Clients pay the firm a percentage on a monthly or quarterly basis.
Partnering with Procurement. Now that law firm clients increasingly have procurement professionals involved in the selection and hiring of outside legal counsel and law firms, some firms are finding creative ways to enhance their relationships with procurement officers. For example, Brandi Hobbs, Client Service and Strategy Director at Poyner Spruill LLP invited firm clients to a Six Sigma Certification course the firm was hosting for lawyers and staff, led by Catherine MacDonagh. Brandi says: “Several clients sent their procurement, project management, and financial team members. We were very pleased with the turnout and the projects that emerged after the course. Having the chance to meet and get to know the professionals who are tasked with finding efficiencies, reducing costs, and managing workflow is incredibly beneficial to the experience we can provide those clients. We are having enriched conversations about how they run their businesses and ways our own processes best complement theirs.”
Client procurement professionals are also increasingly working closely with law firm pricing professionals and project managers. “The business people in law firms leverage data and aim to present it in a way that validates their firm’s business case for hiring the firm,” says Dr. Silvia Hodges Silverstein, executive director of the international trade organization Buying Legal Council. “The involvement of procurement changes the nature of the firm-client relationship. We see a more process-driven approach, more focused on measurable performance and results than in the past. So, law firms and lawyers need to integrate technology into their delivery of services, need to be prepared to work with other alternative providers, and be able to scope the work, to put together budgets and deliver the work and results within the budget and be able to report those results in a measurable manner to clients.” says Hodges Silverstein.
For example, one pricing director in an Am Law 100 firm says: “We analyze rate agreements in a very data-driven and thoughtful way and reconcile differences based on patterns and consistency. Limits on rate increase or rate freezes have a distorting effect on rosters of timekeepers as the seniority of the time keepers changes over time, new timekeepers are added and so on. You can end up with two timekeepers of similar title, location, specialty, and experience level with rates that can be 20% or more apart. We analyze our data to draw references and correlations that justify harmonizing the rates around the higher, more market-appropriate levels versus the lower ones, vice-versa or versus keeping rates randomly and unsystematically distributed.” Another example are law firms who share non-client-specific data with clients’ procurement professionals, including average total fees and costs by matter or case type to help educate the procurement officers employed by their clients and establish their databases and benchmarks.
Complimentary Audits and Assessments. Years ago, major accounting, consulting and other professional services firm created free assessments, audits or tool kits as a service and/or more recently in app form designed to provide organized guidance to systemically identify risks, common steps or possible company assets that can be leveraged or exploited, such as patent aggregators, common issues entrepreneurs face and risk management worksheets. Some innovative law firms are following suit. For example, Fenwick & West created and offers a startup resource center.
Diversity and Inclusion. According to Pamela Cone, who holds a graduate certificate in corporate social responsibility from the University of Toronto and serves as the global social responsibility officer at Milliman Inc.: “It’s no longer enough for law firms to think that simply recruiting diverse lawyers, supporting an internal Women’s Group and providing paid volunteer time is sufficient.” Global companies are increasingly expecting their outside firms and suppliers to broaden their efforts beyond just diversity and inclusion programs to be more socially responsible as a corporation or firm.
Social Responsibility and Sustainability. As Cone points out, when the phrase “social responsibility and sustainability” is read or heard, most law firm leaders and lawyers think: write a check, donate some time, volunteer and recycle, or, what she calls “random acts of kindness.” But clients, prospects and employees expect so much more from their firms. “Firms who understand that, and act accordingly, will have a marketing advantage, at least for a while,” Cone added. “Eventually, however, robust CSR programs will be table-stakes.”
There are a few firms taking social responsibility to the next level by doing more than simply writing a check or volunteering. Nixon Peabody is taking its commitment to social responsibility and sustainability to the next level by initiating sustainability projects to allow them to apply their highest and best expertise and skills for socially responsible causes. For example, the firm’s recent pro bono New Partners Community Solar project was initiated by Nixon Peabody lawyers. Once completed, the project will provide sustainable solar power for low-income residents in a Washington, DC-based affordable housing development. Nixon Peabody attorneys in several practice areas have and are donating their legal advice, drafting skills and representation to the project. As Nixon Peabody partner Alison Torbitt says: “We are always looking for opportunities where our sustainability, energy finance and affordable housing practices can converge in a way that benefits clients and communities. Our attorneys generated the idea, reached out to potential external partners, drafted the documents and were able to help New Partners get to work on a truly groundbreaking project.”
Other Innovative Value-Added Initiatives. After Susan Hackett and the Association of Corporate Counsel invented the Value Challenge seven years ago, the challenge continues to annually recognize law firms’ and law departments’ collaborative work that results in cutting costs associated with legal work, improving predictability and transparency, and helping attain better outcomes. Check out the 2018 ACC Value Champions, who won by applying innovative thinking and work on projects such as writing apps, leveraging AI, and applying sophisticated sourcing and staffing models.
Knowing, meeting and working to exceed clients’ expectations in terms of:
- The results they want and need from their lawyers and firms;
- The quality of service and responsiveness; and
- Unprompted and value-added communications are the basis for productive, effective and win-win client relationships.
Securing, maintaining and expanding client relationships is not easy! It is an on-going, career-long endeavor, which takes considerable commitment and focus, effective processes and systems, and regular investments of time and effort. I hope this article provides many useful strategies, tips, tools, tactics and examples to assist you and your firm in your efforts to expand client relationships.
Julie Savarino holds an MBA, a JD, and is a licensed attorney. Over her 30+ year career, she has built a reputation as a leading international, award-winning business and client development and service strategist and coach for lawyers, law firms, and other professional services providers and firms. She has successfully served in-house in client and business development positions for the law firms of Dickinson Wright and Butzel Long and for the accounting firm Grant Thornton. Connect with Julie on LinkedIn or contact her at 734-668-7008, Julie@BusDevInc.com, @JulieSavarino.
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The views expressed in the article are those of the authors and not necessarily the views of their clients or other attorneys in their firm.
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