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Responsive Vs. Proactive: Clients Expect One and Beg for the Other

There is a recurring theme among our client interviews and electronic feedback surveys these days, and acting on it is a win/win for clients and lawyers. Clients want their lawyers to be more proactive and routinely tell us they wish their lawyers would take the time to pick up the phone, schedule a visit or reach out to them to share insights and issues they should be considering. Lawyers often hear this as a request to be more responsive (and many lawyers are incredibly responsive), but being responsive and being proactive are very different in the client’s mind.

Being responsive and being proactive are very different in the client’s mind.

After coaching hundreds of lawyers over the years, I can say with confidence that there is significant reservation among lawyers at firms to reach out to their clients when they do not have an active matter. They are concerned their clients are too busy, not interested in hearing from them or will view the call as too “salesy.” Let me eliminate your fears and offer some direct quotes from clients and their perception of your outreach:

  • “I think great advice and thinking of solutions before we realize we have a problem is very valuable.”
  • “Being proactive is always good.”
  • “From so many of our other firms, we receive a tremendous amount of value outside of the representation. I have never felt [the firm] has been proactive to share material, insights, industry updates or anything other than what they are getting paid to do.”
  • “Our internal clients expect us to be highly proactive. Our main goal is to avoid legal issues before they become issues and to help advance the vision. To the extent outside counsel can help us with that is tremendous value add. The only way outside counsel can do that is to get to know us and to know our business.”
  • “I would like to do more alternative billing, and I wish firms could be more proactive in coming to me with that.”
  • “They send the firm updates out, but I would always like more proactive [communications]. Knowing our business, where we are located and our business, they could add value around that. [Be] more proactive than reactive.”

Your clients are moving at a rapid speed and are having to answer to many people. They have little appetite for small talk or ineffective pitches for work they are not interested in moving, but they are not too busy to hear about issues they need to be concerned about, solutions on how to get ahead of those problems and how you can make their lives personally and professionally easier.

If you are adding value and making their lives easier, you are not bothering your clients. You are being proactive, which is a sign of immensely effective and valuable outside counsel.

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