At the end of a client feedback interview last week, the senior in-house counsel I was speaking with summed up the relationship by saying, “At the end of the day, they get all my work because they make me look good.”
It is that simple.
In an era where competition is greater than ever and lawyers are fighting for incrementally small increases in revenue (and often fighting to keep the work they have and make it profitable), the fundamentals matter more than ever.
In every talk we give with groups of lawyers, we remind them of two things:
- One size fits one. Every individual at every client has a different set of needs, values and expectations from outside counsel.
- Every client asks three things about outside counsel: Can you fix my problem? Will you make my life easier? And do I like you as a person?
The factors that go into making your client look good are both subjective and objective. The objective ones are critical, like meeting deadlines, not surprising the client with unexpected news and meeting budget expectations.
The subjective ones are closer to the category of one size fits one. Sometimes, making a client look good is understanding how the company measures performance and the role outside counsel plays in that review. Oftentimes, that impacts bonuses.
But it also impacts the client’s reputation and credibility within the organization. Too often, outside counsel forget their clients are not the in-house counsel they work with on a daily basis but the business people those in-house counsel are serving.
It takes time, thoughtfulness and a considered effort (and even sometimes client service training) for outside counsel to be comfortable shifting the conversation away from a focus on the work to a focus on the relationship and understanding the clients’ needs. The skill of being authentically inquisitive about your clients’ goals, definitions of success and individual specific needs does not come naturally for many lawyers but is closely tied to a lawyer’s success. The work doesn’t just show up. It comes from clients being not just satisfied with outside counsel but delighted. This is a referral business, and the bar for referrals is high. Those clients that feel like their outside counsel have their proverbial backs are the ones that keep getting the work. They don’t ask for work—they listen, understand and act.
Have a clear understanding of what in-house counsel need to look good in the eyes of their internal clients. You will drive the client loyalty that results in the sentiment: “They get all my work because they make me look good.”