If any lawyer does not understand how important client relationships are they need to find another line of work. In this month’s issue of Edge International’s Communiqué there is an article by Shirley Anne Fortina that points out how important strategic CRM is to business development.

She states “Client relationship management should be your number one business development activity.” I could not agree more. I have preached over and over that clients are the number one source of new business (whether in the form of new work or referrals to new clients).

Fortina lists 24 questions you should ask yourself to determine the type of relationship you have/want with clients. Here are 5 of my favorites:

  • Do you care – I mean really care – about your clients?
  • Do you clearly communicate what you’re doing and why?
  • Do you keep the client sufficiently informed?
  • Do you keep your promises on deadlines and targets?
  • What are you doing to maintain, build and/or enhance relationships?

If you are truly interested in better client relationships, I recommend that you read the other 19 questions as well.

In conclusion, Fortina provides a great quote from Dale Carnegie; to wit: “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

According to a survey by The BTI Consulting Group, only 40.1% of clients “recommend their primary law firm to a peer.” As bad as that statistic is, the good news is that it is better by almost 7% over the previous year, and better slightly than five years ago.  According to the survey it “still leaves more than half of all clients wanting.”

As I, and many others have consistently stated, clients hire lawyers they know, like and trust.  Not only as to the quality of the legal product, but how the services are provided.  And referrals from satisfied clients is the “express lane” to more work and new business.

So, what should you do?  A few recommendations include:

  • Seek feedback (No. 3 on my list of Top Ten Marketing Tips)
  • Set goals that match those of the client
  • Invest in understanding the client’s business (a failing I’ve heard from clients over the years)
  • Don’t wait for the client to ask about succession plans
  • Educate the clients “in new, high-value topics (off the clock I would add)

The good news is that more and more firms, according to BTI, are doing a better job of systematically adopting practices to “improve client service on a continuing basis.”

Are you and your firm doing the same?


Well run and successful law firms in my experience always seemed to have a good marketing sense. Even in the days before the “M” word came into vogue, these firms had a rainmaker (usually a founding partner) or two good at bringing in business. As the legal industry became more competitive, more firms have recognized how critical marketing is to their success; and a lot more partners must get involved

So it wasn’t a big surprise when I ran across an article by Michael Rynowecer, president and founder of The BTI Consulting Group, identifying 8 key habits of highly profitable law firms, which appeared in John Remsen’s Managing Partner Forum weekly newsletter. The habits were identified as the result of a survey of over 330 law firms.  Although not mentioning marketing specifically, I realized the habits are all excellent marketing tools

They include:

  1. Smaller number of mega clients. According to Rynowecer, this can lead to deeper client understanding, more cross-selling opportunities, economies of scale and opportunities to mentor team members. (It can also ensure the firm remains profitable, if a mega client were to fire the firm);
  2. Ongoing client dialogue. Even when you are not working on a matter, keep up a dialogue about the client’s business. It’s a good way to show that you’re not just interested in them because of fees, but are genuinely interested in them and their organization;
  3. Focus on more niche practices. Niche law firms have a deeper understanding of a practice, and can focus on an in-depth capability and expertise. As Rynowecer states these “firms go narrow and deep.” And, of course, in this day and age most firms cannot be all things to all clients;
  4. Educate clients to avoid problems. Offer ideas and solutions to clients before they become a problem. It’s just another way to add value to client relationships;
  5. Greater firm socializing among partners. One of the biggest reasons that cross-selling doesn’t work in many firms is because there isn’t enough knowledge, familiarity and trust among the partners. There should be a lot more internal socializing beyond the annual retreat. If a firm wants cross-selling to occur, there needs to be a great deal more relationship building within the firm;
  6. Firm uniformity across offices and practices. Without a solid management structure that ensures consistency and uniformity across office boundaries and practice areas, it will be more difficult to reduce client anxiety if they decide to use an unfamiliar practice area;
  7. Inform clients early regarding changes. Clients do not like surprises about anything. Accordingly, it’s best to keep clients informed about any potential changes and problem areas in the representation; and
  8. Focus on clients with ongoing work. It’s of a no-brainer that if you like the client and the work you do for them, then it’s a good idea to work at obtaining more of it. It’s just an obvious and less expensive marketing strategy.

If all of the above are done consistently, it reflects good marketing and business development savvy that will make your firm highly profitable.

Ran across a fictitious letter written by a fictitious general counsel to a fictitious law firm he just retained. The letter sets forth his expectations for the new firm; and was crafted by Bob Denney of Robert Denney Associates as one of his famous Legal Communiqués. Although it is nearly a year old, it is so right on in terms of what law firms must be tuned into for servicing clients I wanted, in the interests of brevity, to cover it in two posts.

The letter starts off by setting forth what this in-house attorney expects from the firm:

  • He doesn’t want the responsible attorney to be a “Lone Ranger”, but expects to be served by a competent team at the level and experience needed; and the attorney needs to ensure that he is providing “quality control” and has a qualified partner to be his backup when he is not available;
  • He wants the advice to be objective, and aimed at solving problems not creating additional ones, while anticipating and preparing to overcome any future problems;
  • He doesn’t want to be kept in the dark (like a bat or mushroom), and consulted on matters of strategy, timing and expense. Oh yeah, and NO surprises;
  • He expects everyone on the team to be responsive, courteous and show respect to everyone in the company they come in contact with. And “If we think something is important then” IT IS; and
  • He expects not only that all legal deadlines will be met, but “we also expect you to meet – or even beat – our business deadlines.”

Actually the letter could be turned around and used as an affirmative assertion by law firms to new clients as to how they will handle their matter. It would be impressive if firms did so.

Next post will address the fee and billing expectations and a final caveat, if his expectations are not met.

Of course they haven’t for several reasons:  no immediate need, forgot 80% of what you said in two days time, or didn’t remember you name, etc.  So, what’s a lawyer to do?

Continue to work at developing business day after day after day.  You won’t be hired, in most cases, after your first encounter.  Hell, maybe not after the 20th.  The point is that you have to stay top of mind with prospects (heck, even with clients), so they will call you when they need a lawyer like you.

Ruth Carter has a great post on Attorney at Work that tells a story about how she bought tires 18 months after meeting a guy she liked.  Why?  First, she didn’t need tires when she met him, and when she did, she bought them from him because she ran into the guy everywhere.  He showed up at “business mixers, community festivals, networking groups.” That’s what you need to do.

Aw, come on, you may say.  How does a lawyer’s services compare to selling tires.  You might even say, “remember that I gave an impressive speech about legal matters for goodness sake.”  Well, my good friend, wake up.  Developing business is a process, not a one shot deal. As Carter points out, she liked him when they met and got to know him over time, and came to trust him.

That’s exactly what lawyers need to do:

  • Show up;
  • Develop relationships so potential clients will get to know, like and trust you;
  • Make friends (both Carter and tire guy did not try to sell their wares when they met, but rather themselves over a period of time); and
  • Most importantly, (in case I forgot to mention it) show up at places your potential clients hang out.

If you want to gain clients, you’ve got to do the things that provide a lasting impression, so clients will keep you top of mind for when they need a lawyer. A speech or a one-time meeting won’t do it.

Although there is a tendency to jump right into it new matter as soon as the client gives the go-ahead, that is the wrong thing to do. Not only from the standpoint of adequately serving the client and meeting client expectations, but it could end up being a financial disaster for the law firm (Read: client imposed discount/lower realization rate).

Patrick Lamb had a post on Legal Rebels this month that talks about a two-day program at which in-house and outside counsel addressed what each interprets their job to be in a legal relationship.  He then provides a number of bullets on what “some of the notes on the ideal future state from the inside counsel group” viewpoint included.

It struck me that the highlights of the two-day program covered by Lamb in his post were really all about project management. My colleague Jim Hassett, founder and president of LegalBizDev, has written the definitive book (3rd edition will be out next month) on the eight key issues that comprise legal project management.

So, what does the future look like?  Some of the points mentioned by Lamb are in quotes (with Hassett’s relevant key issues in parentheses):

  • “Detailed, succinct quality communications” (7. Manage client communication and expectations);
  • “Never having to review a bill/agreed fee and terms” (1. Set objectives and define scope, 4. Plan and manage the budget);
  • “Managing to a number” (3. Assign tasks and manage the team, 4. Plan and manage the budget));
  • “Both sides have skin in the game” (5. Assess risks [to client and firm] to budget and schedule);
  • “Outside lawyers understand what risks client is willing to except” (5. Assess risks to budget and schedule);
  • “Syncing legal approach with business perspective” (1. Set objectives and define scope).

The inside and outside counsel discussion mentioned by Lamb emphasized the importance of better planning, budgeting, execution and communications in their relationship. Legal project management clearly can do just that to improve the attorney-client relationship.

Food for thought.