I had the pleasure of facilitating the closing session for the Legal Marketing Association Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference in DC last week. Sometimes I forget how lucky I am to spend most of my days talking to GCs, in-house counsel, C-suite leaders and business executives. But when 225+ legal marketing professionals packed the room to hear the perspectives of our client panel, it was a fabulous reminder of how the voice of the client is so critical to deepening relationships, improving client service and advancing our profession.
As a managing partner once said to me, “Change is hard for lawyers and law firms. Nothing turns the aircraft carrier (aka: law firms typically slow to change) faster than the client’s voice.”
The panelists—Kameron Dodge, Vice President, Senior Counsel, Triumph Financial; John Olsen, CEO, Teaching Strategies; and Kate Thornton, Strategy Counsel, Alphabet Regulatory Response, Investigations & Strategy, Google—spent an hour highlighting what matters most to each of them when selecting and working with outside counsel, how to truly differentiate, what they wished more lawyers would do and small things to deepen and expand your current relationships.
Below are a few highlights from the session:
- Understanding the client’s business and industry is critical to the client. Excellent legal work from high-quality law firms is assumed, but having expertise and experience within the business or industry is what makes the clients value and expand a relationship. Each participant highlighted how lawyers who truly understand their business and industry make better partners, deliver more efficient work product and offer valuable insights above lawyers who do not understand their business or industry.
- Sharing proactive insights is highly valued and not received enough. Lawyers are worried their clients are too busy, but our panelists reminded the audience that they welcome calls, messages and information to help them see around the corner and prepare for things they might not be aware of, particularly if the insight is tailored to their business or industry.
- Brevity and clarity of advice are critical to success. BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front) is a military term that was referenced on the panel as a tool more lawyers could adopt. In a world of limited attention spans and bullet-point messaging, be mindful of the final recipient of your work product (often not just legal) and deliver your work product efficiently for all audiences to easily digest.
- Obtaining feedback is welcomed and encouraged. Each participant believes there is value in lawyers and law firms gathering feedback on the experience, relationships and service to ultimately improve the relationship and align with the clients’ expectations, goals and priorities.
- Thought leadership is as important to the C-suite and business professionals as it is to in-house counsel. Lawyers and C-suite executives both appreciate and encourage sharing articles, best practices and information to educate them and help them make better decisions.
- Clients are humans too, and relationships matter. While each client is a bit different in their preferences (don’t be afraid to ask), the panelists highlighted how it is important to build trust, rapport and personal connections with their lawyers. In addition, they understand you have lives, too. Clarify timelines and expectations. They are not going to ask for unrealistic deadlines unless they really need to.
- Diversity of outside counsel is still important. While it tends to be driven by some of the largest companies, diversity of outside counsel is important to many clients.
- Helping clients grow their businesses, drive strategic goals and mitigate risk are viewed as important differentiators in client service. As one recent interviewee said it best, “Law firms are in the business of selling litigation and legal services. The fundamental problem is clients are not in the business of buying litigation and legal services.” Our panelists agreed and highlighted how far too many lawyers are focused on winning a matter or obtaining a piece of litigation versus aligning to the client’s growth and key strategic initiatives. The latter leads to endless legal work and opportunities.
As we love to say at Wicker Park Group, “One Size Fits One,” or every client and individual is slightly different. This client panel was reflective of that and very aligned with what we are hearing in our client interviews. Use these ideas as a starting point to reach out to your clients and ask what matters most to them, what is working and what needs to change for you to partner and serve them best going forward.