When discussing client relationships and client service with law firm leaders, we are often asked a question I find surprising: When is the best time to go visit a client?
Before delving into the answers to that question, we often set the stage with the lawyers (and the marketing and business development professionals) we are working with for the purpose of a client visit. We make sure that everyone in those conversations is in agreement with the following:
The single best thing a lawyer can do (outside of great legal work) to develop business and market themselves is to go visit a client.
I have never met a lawyer who has gone on a client visit and not come back with an opportunity to add value to the relationship, uncovered an opportunity to grow the relationship or protected an area of work that is at risk. But those conversations are not about matters—they are about client needs.
Every client has a different set of needs and goals as well as a different style and level of interest in spending time with outside counsel. Sometimes clients don’t even want to meet you. But that means most likely the relationship is purely transactional, and while maybe it’s not at risk, there is certainly not as much of an opportunity to grow the relationship if that person isn’t a decision maker and isn’t invested in the relationship. And that’s fine; every firm has those clients and needs those clients. But it is still good to ask if you can visit. Then, if they decline, ask again in six months. Things change.
Which gets me to the answer of the question: When is it the right time to visit a client?
First, ask the client. Don’t have the internal debate of whether to bother them because they are busy. That is the bad kind of thinking that drives clients crazy. Clients would rather be asked and indicate when is the right time than have you decide they don’t want to spend time with you to 1) better understand their businesses and 2) help make their lives easier. Ask those two questions and use them as the springboard for the rest of the conversation.
If you are still stuck or need a reason to visit your clients, here are a few good reasons:
- When there is a change in the client’s business
- When there is a change in the client’s industry
- When there are personnel changes at the client
- When there are personnel changes at the firm
- When the client publically announces a new strategy or change of direction
- In the Fall before you think about raising rates
- When you haven’t talked to the client in a long time, and you want to show you care and remain top of mind
- When the firm has done something innovative to solve a similar client’s recurring problem
Clients are busy, but their business and legal needs change often. There is also more innovation, more competition, more aggressive business development and more change in the legal industry than ever. If you’re not visiting your clients, you no longer understand their needs and are no longer top of mind.
If you don’t believe it, go ask your clients.