While I was talking to a law firm partner about one of her most significant clients last week, she said, “Every time we have face time with the client, we walk away with several new projects. But that is so hard because we are so busy just managing the work and their complicated financial reporting and forecasting requirements. I don’t have time to just sit and think about things so I can look around the corner for them.”
Unfortunately, it’s not enough to be a capable legal technician any more. You have to be service oriented, responsive, technologically savvy, an excellent communicator and—perhaps most importantly—you need a crystal ball. In countless client interviews, clients say proactively bringing potential problems and opportunities to their attention really distinguishes the great advisors in a sea of smart and highly competent practitioners. They value the outside counsel who are willing and confident enough to use their expertise to forecast the legal and other issues that may impact business in the future.
Since finding an effective crystal ball can be challenging, here are four tips for looking around the corner on behalf of your clients:
- Meet in person at the client’s place of business. Even though finding the time is difficult, seeing clients in their work environment allows you to witness workplace dynamics, politics and published goals and values firsthand. In a recent client interview, the CEO (who doesn’t regularly work with the lawyers on a day-to-day basis) suggested a joint strategy planning session to address the company’s expansion and current challenges. He called it a win-win scenario because it will help the business grow and help the firm gain more work in the process.
- Listen. The best way to understand what is really going on with your clients is to ask open-ended questions and engage in active listening. Also, extend your listening to the marketplace. Utilize your competitive intelligence professionals to help you track news about clients, their industries and competitors. Ask your clients to suggest what trade news and other resources you should add to your team’s reading list.
- Collaborate. Get out of your office and your comfort zone and schedule time with colleagues who work with the client or for clients in similar or related industries to step away from the day-to-day business at hand and share information and observations that may benefit multiple clients.
- Delegate. Train team members to share the administrative burden of client management and reporting in order to free up more of your time for strategic thinking and planning. Successful client teams are designating associates or staff to help with the status reports, research and other client projects to build future leaders and demonstrate bench strength.
Your clients don’t expect you to tell them exactly what the future will bring. But they do expect you to utilize the many resources available (historical company knowledge, years of expertise working with other clients, other firm attorneys, industry connections, etc.) to help them prepare for what might be around the corner.