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11 Essential Messages from a Client Panel: Part 2

Last week, I shared five tips to come out of a recent client panel. As I said in the previous post, most client panels cover well-worn client service topics. But there’s a reason the same topics get discussed: In-house lawyers continue to seek outside counsel who don’t just provide the necessary work but who proactively strive to make their lives easier. The below tips are a continuation of last week’s list:

6. Take ownership of mistakes, learn from them and move on together. Clients are realistic and understand mistakes happen, but the worst thing you can do is not take ownership or learn from your mistakes. Own up quickly and discuss how you will eliminate the issue from happening again. Genuinely apologize and move on together. Bad news does not get better with time and is typically best delivered over the phone and off technology.

7. When the clients say, “This is important to the business or my boss,” listen up. Every project should be handled with care and importance, but there are times when specific projects need extra attention, care or insights. When your client is telling you something matters to the C-suite or impacts a bigger issue, take note and tell them you understand and hear them. Do not dismiss your client, their needs or their insights, ever.

8. Clients review every bill asking: “Did I receive good value for the fees?” Be confident in the answer to the question before you send a bill to the client. In clients’ eyes, not all work is equal. Some work is bet the company, some is important to the business, some is run of the mill and some is commodity. Clients view the value for fees differently depending on how the work fits into their business, needs, strategic goals and priorities. When they are disappointed with bills, it typically relates to the value of the work instead of the amount. Have proactive discussions regarding budgets, fees and projects regularly to eliminate surprises on both ends.

9. BLUF: Bottom Line Up Front. This is a military term that focuses on highlighting the key message at the beginning. Clients want and expect the same. Less words, more executive summaries and, more importantly, specific recommendations. Stop burying the headline or telling them options. They are paying you for your decisions. They may disagree or go in another direction, but they are capable of determining their options. They are looking for strategic business advisors, not legal professors.

10. Take a moment to learn about your client. The panel talked extensively about the importance of taking time to understand not just their business but also their specific background. They want you to Google them in advance of meeting them to understand their skillset and background. They need you to understand how they make money, their competitors and how they want to grow and expand. Lawyers often reference this type of research as “stalking,” but clients want you to be an informed partner. That is not stalking—that is being respectful.

11. Enjoy what you do or do something else. I am always surprised the number of times joy or happiness comes up in client interviews or client panels. Clients use these words when talking about why they work with certain lawyers and what differentiates their favorite outside counsel. We hear phrases like, “They are really fun to work with” or “I love that whenever I call her, she seems happy to hear my voice” or “We use him time and time again because he makes it really easy to work together and clearly loves what he does.” Clients want you passionate about their business and industry. They want to see you enjoying what you do. If you are not happy or loving what you do, it shows in every conversation and work product. Find joy in what you do or find something else that brings you joy. Life is too short.

You have heard these messages before, but how good are you at acting on them and truly making your clients’ lives easier? Consider printing out this list and giving yourself a grade on how well you do in each of these areas with your top five or ten clients. Where is there room for improvement? Where do you shine? Think about the conversations you should have to obtain clarity from your clients on what they need differently from you and your team. It’s not rocket science, but it’s what makes you the standout lawyer being praised on the client panel and hired for more work.

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