At WPG, the voice of the client is the core of what we do and how we help law firms create meaningful relationships with their clients. At our recent Client Relationship Symposium, we hosted a panel of four in-house counsel who generously shared their insights on how to build successful partnerships with outside counsel. Below are the essential tips from our panelists on how outside counsel can become trusted advisors to in-house teams.
- Know the business holistically. Our panelists encouraged lawyers in private practice to really listen to what the client is trying to accomplish or fix. Know how they make their money and what’s important or not important. Check in regularly to understand their priorities.
- Provide practical advice. Clients don’t want a research memo. They need the snippets they can share with their GC or business leader. Higher rates can be worth it for efficient work product that can be turned around with minimal review. Our panelists also emphasized the importance of including the “’so what?” If the client doesn’t do something, what will happen?
- Do your homework. When pitching, don’t assume that you’re guaranteed the work because you’re the incumbent firm. Read publicly available disclosures and research the relevant industries and markets. Overlay that information with firm capabilities to make a compelling case that you understand what the client needs for the matter at hand.
- Remember relationships and referrals. Our panelists commented they often check with each other for the inside scoop on law firms. One added, “As an aside, I never hire a ‘Super Lawyer.’ It’s a paid advertisement.”
- Turn on your video! One counsel shared, “It always surprises me when someone won’t get on screen when I am meeting you for the first time. I won’t hire you if I can’t see how you interact.” If you have an established relationship, there are times when going off camera is acceptable, but if you’re early in a relationship, consider the impression that you’re making.
- Make it personal. Not everyone needs or likes to be wined and dined, but it is important to invest time and effort to build a relationship. Visit your clients, take them to lunch or invite them to an educational program. If a new in-house counsel joins the client, proactively introduce yourself and offer to get them up to speed. Said one counsel, “I value when they send me relevant and timely information. If it’s relevant and going to help my business, then I will think of that firm. Substantive information makes me remember that firm.”
- Understand their budgets. Every company is different, so ask your clients how their annual budgeting cycle works to understand when their budget resets and when a big bill can’t be processed.
- Ask for feedback. One of panelists commented, “There’s not enough real human communication and listening—communication and the legal relationship of listening. Even the counsel who think they are doing a good job have areas for improvements.” Soliciting feedback is a differentiator and will ultimately foster a deeper relationship with your clients.