During the proverbial dog days of summer, outside counsel often assume clients are disinterested in interacting with them and are taking some kind of “break.” But like many assumptions made by law firm lawyers, this one is worth rethinking. We find in our conversations and interviews with in-house counsel that August is often a time when clients reflect on what has happened year to date and start planting the seeds for fall initiatives.
- Ask about strategic initiatives. In a recent client feedback interview, we uncovered one client’s very specific goal to use an active RFP to reduce the number of outside firms from several hundred to a panel of 12 or so primary firms. While the RFP had been issued, the direct conversation with the client revealed several significant considerations that are not in the RFP and will likely tip the scales for the firm that incorporates them into the response. Without that context, aligning the firm strengths with the client’s future needs would have been impossible.
- Conduct a post- or mid-matter debrief meeting. Clients often bring this up in feedback interviews. Frequently, priorities shift mid-matter and clients have feedback that can impact the firm’s ability to support the goals of the matter. In the middle of a deal, litigation or other matter, it is hard to carve out time at milestones to assess what course-correcting activities are necessary. Given things are naturally slower in August, take the time to review recent matters and ask the clients what can be done differently for existing and recently concluded matters.
- Meet a client you have never met in person. Use the slow time of summer to pick a client or two where you have done significant work but have yet to have the opportunity to meet in person. In another recent client interview, the client said: “We wouldn’t ask them to come here, but we always welcome it. It is really valuable to meet our internal clients. That way when we tell them ‘outside counsel advises…,’ then they can put a face to the name.”
- Ask about budgeting plans for 2019. Clients set budgets in the fall. Law firms send out rate increase letters in the New Year, long after budget decisions get made. Have those conversations now before the clients start deciding how much they are going to pay you without involving you in the discussion, strategy and reasons behind fee decisions.
One more bonus suggestion: Share client needs and areas of focus internally with colleagues. This one really must be ongoing. Too often law firms don’t take the time to seek out what clients value that differentiates and drives loyalty. When a client is wowed or a novel approach to a new or recurring problem is uncovered, share it with other partners in the firm. Other partners may have clients with the exact same challenge. And on top of that, you learn more about what other partners are doing, which increases the likelihood of you organically expanding the relationship with your clients or theirs.