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Client Development Tips from an In-House Counsel

I began my legal career like the majority of law school graduates—by joining a law firm as a fresh-faced associate. My primary job responsibilities were to represent the firm’s financial institution clients in litigation matters. I had no assigned business development duties other than to keep our clients happy with our legal services.

After twelve years, I was requited to be general counsel of a banking institution headquartered in Houston. Again, I had no assigned business development duties other than to keep our senior management and board members informed of our legal risks, keep them aware of new developments in banking regulations and control outside legal expenses.

Handshake Client DevelopmentIt was during the early part of my twenty years in house that I was first exposed to highly developed and successful client development techniques from our stable of approved law firms.  Here is what I observed and learned from those firms regarding successful business development:

  1. My state bar required annual CLE compliance by all active lawyers, and CLE costs were a significant budget item for our department. Law firms that offered tailored in-house seminars or webinars were very much appreciated. I might not attend each seminar, but someone from the bank did.
  1. Effective, personalized and consistent communication is essential. As I have stated many times in presentations and blog posts: “No surprises, please!” Find out how in-house practice group leaders want to communicate, and ensure you are aware of the level of communication they require. Everyone reports to someone; help your clients with that reporting.
  1. When our bank was acquired by another large financial institution, we began operating in several additional states. Look where your clients operate and develop a “legal desk guide” regarding operating in those states. If your client isn’t in multiple locations, think about what other types of guides would be helpful. Don’t wait to be asked. Offer it to help your clients.
  1. Don’t sell me—educate me. One of the main reasons I went to law school is that I did not want to have to sell to anyone. I also realized very quickly I did not like to be sold “to” either. However, I did appreciate being educated about the things that affected my business responsibilities. So educate your firm’s clients concerning matters that will affect their businesses as well as the benefits of hiring your firm to assist them in those areas.
  1. Finally, I don’t know how many times our in-house counsel and bank officers commented (complained) to me regarding how much time they had to spend teaching outside counsel about their business units’ practices and how those practices related to the legal issues involved in the engagement. It is essential for a long-term relationship that your lawyers have an in-depth understanding of their clients’ businesses, industries and long-term objectives.

Business development is both an art and a science, but anyone can develop rainmaking skills if they work at it.

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