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Needle in the Haystack: The Power of Your Alumni

Albeit unplanned and a bit happenstance, I have been interviewing quite a few alumni of our law firm clients. Alumni are great interview candidates for many reasons. They have insights and perceptions that go beyond the average firm client. They have “experienced both sides” and have an appreciation of what they would do differently. They offer brutal candor regarding competitive intelligence. Lastly, alumni are often the most candid when it comes to areas of improvement and are highly vested in the firm’s success if they left on good terms, so the feedback comes with genuine good intent.

Looking back on these interviews, I’ve noticed some patterns and interesting observations regarding alumni:

  • Alumni are some of the fruitful and underserved business development contacts within your firms. Firms have alumni programs, invite alumni to large networking events and often have exit interview processes, but too many lose touch with key contacts on a one-on-one basis.
  • Alumni offer some of the most insightful competitive intelligence for free. Firms spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on competitive intelligence tools and research. While those are important and valuable, alumni are often a great resource for candid insights into how clients view the firm, who else they use in the space and what your competitors are doing to win or keep business from your clients.
  • Alumni are often in the best position to be champions for the firm to other key clients and prospects. If a firm handles a departure with class, grace and professionalism, alumni remember this and share their positive experiences with other clients and prospects. Alternatively, if the firm handles the departure poorly, they tell even more people.
  • Alumni often have the greatest misperceptions of the firm’s strengths. Depending on how long ago the individual left, the firm may have drastically changed, improved, grown or focused since that time. Assuming that all alumni know the firm’s strengths, geographic reach and industry depth is short-sighted and a missed opportunity.
  • Alumni are often more supportive of outreach because they remember the challenges and necessities of business development. Almost all firms today are focused on business development outreach, skills, cross-selling and deeper relationships with their clients. This is uncomfortable for many lawyers, but alumni are often more supportive and open to discussions if you make the messages customized and relevant to their businesses. They can be internal champions for how to successfully navigate opportunities if you involve them in the process.

Firms spend so much time searching for the needle in the haystack or the next new shiny client, but they often ignore the greatest low-hanging fruit right in front of them: current clients and alumni. Networking events, newsletters and communication to alumni are useful, but they are not replacements for one-on-one relationships and time spent together. Evaluate your firm’s alumni contacts and what you are doing to personally keep those relationships strong and active. Take advantage of their history with the firm and ask them for their insights, feedback, perceptions and recommendations. Most have fond memories of their time at the firm and appreciate staying connected.

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