My husband likes to tell people I serve as a “marriage counselor” for law firms and their clients. While it seems like an oversimplification, it is a pretty accurate description. When I reflect on the secrets of the many successful long-term marriages I’ve witnessed, including my parents’ 65-year marriage, they are the same things clients describe as critical to their most successful and long-term outside counsel relationships.
1. Communication is Key
Communicating clearly, concisely and frequently ensures that expectations are understood and met or exceeded. Clients praise the firms that communicate in their preferred methodologies and appreciate the attorneys who recognize when it is most effective and efficient to discuss complicated or complex topics rather than risk misunderstandings that can easily occur in text or email exchanges.
2. Spend Time Together
Spending time together builds trust and understanding. Learning about the client, business, industry, culture and preferences gives outside counsel a competitive advantage. One client says, “He has developed a deep understanding of our company culture and for this reason gives us practical and incredibly helpful advice in gray situations.”
Clients often consult outside counsel to get a different perspective or gut check based on expertise and experience working with a variety of different clients. Many clients praise the attorneys who are willing to tell them the truth even when they know that it is not what the client wants to hear. While you may be convinced that your advice and counsel is the best recommendation for clients, they may not always agree. Be respectful and stay focused on solutions forward.
4. Address Mistakes
While lawyers strive for perfection, mistakes can and do happen, and the firms that stand out are the ones that know how to recover well. As one client explains, “We all make mistakes, and it is how the lawyers and firms respond to those mistakes that makes them shine. Every firm says they are sorry when they make a mistake, but those that learn from the mistake, implement change and ensure it doesn’t happen again are the firms that stand out from others.”
5. Show Gratitude
Asking for feedback is one of the best ways to show your client you care and really appreciate the relationship. A short conversation can lead to greater understanding and increased loyalty. Say something like: “Thank you for trusting us with your work. I want to make sure our team is aligned with your expectations and priorities. From your perspective, what’s going well? Is there anything we should adjust?”
Each outside counsel/client relationship is unique, much like every marriage. But these five steps are key to creating satisfied, loyal, long-term relationships with all your clients.