2024 is off to a fast start. Firms are doubling down on their investments in their best client relationships by focusing on their client service strategies, cross-selling initiatives, succession planning as well as building out both industry and client-specific teams to make sure the lawyers and professional staff are meeting their clients “where they are going, not just where they have been.” Some of this is the continuation of a long-planned commitment to investing in not just great legal work but world-class client service. For other firms, it’s driven by anxiety and uncertainty as broader macroeconomic forces still impact certain core practice areas and industries. Ultimately, firms are looking for certainty and predictability in uncertain and unpredictable times.
I recently interviewed the CEO of a privately held billion-dollar business, and the executive’s comments aligned with what we have been saying for years: Every client has a different set of needs, expectations and goals in every client relationship. Clients are not monoliths—they are individuals that have problems and typically value advisors (including lawyers) who can deliver the optimal solution for whatever that problem may be. In other words, one size fits one. But beyond just that, not all needs are the same, so it’s not just one individual but also any one problem.
Ensure you are aligned with your clients and their ever-changing problems with these client service best practices that lead to the highest client loyalty:
- Don’t keep score. Have regular off-the-clock conversations with the clients, whether in person or even by phone, to check in and ask what’s top of mind that day or on the client’s radar for the next few months. And make sure the client knows they will not be charged for those relationship development conversations.
- When things change, ask about those changes and then share that news with the client service team. Lawyers too often wait for clients to come to them with their problems. But sharing knowledge in a quick email to other lawyers, even those in other practice areas not actively working on matters, will demonstrate an integrated and proactive client service approach.
- Know the difference between legal advice and business advice. That same CEO said in the interview, “Anyone can recite the case law and show us all the risk. We need partners who will help us make the best business decision. Everything we do has risk. As we get more sophisticated, we need a partner to grow with us as we look at changing risk in our business. We don’t need lawyers who write CYA letters.”
- Never surprise the client. We often say, “Bad news never gets better with time.” The CEO said, “We are really well calibrated, and [the firm] is not in the business of surprising people. That’s really important and not always the case.”
- Be honest about capabilities. No firm is going to be everything to every client. When you can’t solve a problem because of resources, geography or any other reason, help the client find someone who can, and then check in to make sure they are happy with the recommendation or referral.
- Play well with others. Most firms are not the sole provider of legal services to any of their clients, and clients mostly do not expect them to be (see above). How you collaborate with the “competition” speaks volumes.
All the tactics above are exactly what most clients do every day with their customers. Demonstrate that relationships are investments, not transactional, and think about how you can further invest in your most valued relationships every day.