Client Remote Working Outreach — Managing Partner ChecklistGerry Riskin
Managing Partners: Capitalize on your firm’s opportunity to enhance your outreach program to clients.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT
The extremely fragile state of mind of your clients makes this essential for three reasons:
- It’s the right thing to do. You will help them.
- The unique opportunity is NOW, when client needs are intense.
- Your firm’s relationships with your clients will be forever enhanced.
MY RESEARCH – HANDS-ON EXPERIENCE
In my research with individual attorneys and client firms I have learned that:
- Many attorneys have been reaching out to at least some clients.
- Some have done an effective job of showing care and concern.
- Others have been a bit mechanical and missed the opportunity to show caring.
- Those participating in the outreach can learn a lot from each other by sharing experiences.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR ATTORNEYS
(test your attorneys’ client-awareness)
How are your clients doing right now?
What are their situations?
- Living alone or with a significant other?
- Do they have at-risk friends or relatives?
- Is any family member or friend sick?
What are they doing to stay sane professionally or personally?
- Virtual Happy Hours?
- Virtual lunches?
- Virtual coffee?
How are they coping with working from home (WFH)?
- Regular work hours/routine?
- Sleep – OK, or not so much?
- Stress – how bad is it and what are they doing to reduce it?
Note: Attorneys who cannot answer these questions are not really in touch with their clients right now.
“What benefits would accrue to you or your practice group by showing you care about your clients?” (In a facilitated discussion, record these benefits.)
HOW DO YOU DO THE OUTREACH?
Have each attorney list some client contacts and referral sources, active or otherwise.
Ask your attorneys to invite several clients a day to communicate.
- Attorneys should suggest video.
- They should explain why they’d like to use video.
- Feedback from others suggests most people prefer video.
- As a precaution, they should allow clients a choice (phone).
Attorneys should be trained to ask open-ended big picture questions, like
- How are you doing? (Make it clear that you really want to know.)
- Are there any surprises – things you did not expect WFH?
- What’s the hardest part about WFH?
- What’s the best part of WFH?
- Do you need anything? How can I help?
Encourage your attorneys to:
- Probe (dig deeper): “What’s that like?”
- Avoid leading questions, like “It’s not so bad, right?”
- Use empathy in your answers: “That must be pretty difficult.”
DO NOT SELL
The outreach is about showing care, concern and empathy. If you are perceived to be looking for more work you will have reduced your credibility to ZERO.
TRACKING THE OUTREACH
- Ask attorneys to list those to whom they have reached out.
- Ask attorneys tell you about how each client reacted.
- Publicize the anecdotes in your team meetings.
- Give the attorneys who do this well some recognition. Ask them to detail in a team meeting.
Your outreach is a condition precedent to maintaining or enhancing client relationships.
The door to this opportunity is wide open – walk through it.
Do a good job, not a perfect job. (Don’t be the perfectionist who missed the opportunity.)
MAY I HELP YOU? If you would like to have an informal discussion about this topic, please let me know and I’ll set up a video meeting with you (no fee).
I INVITE YOUR FEEDBACK: I would be interested to know your thoughts on your outreach to clients or any other matter relating to law firms and their management – during crises or at any other time. Reach me via email.
The Focus Challenge – Part 2: Your ClientsGerry Riskin
1. The Legal Matter
Here are some of the essential lessons I have learned after several decades of listening closely to clients, conducting my own research, and reading a myriad of surveys and research studies by others:
a) Clients do not have legal problems. They have personal or business problems that may require them to seek the services of their lawyer.
b) Clients do not want to be treated as though they were stupid, nor do they want to relinquish control. Clients want choices, not answers; specifically, they want choices that they would not be able to generate without the expertise and assistance of their lawyers – ones that will help them to level the playing field in finding a resolution to their problem.
c) Lawyers often believe that the only thing clients care about is results, but research shows that this belief is wrong. Clients want a lawyer who cares and exerts effort… and since most of the expended effort is invisible, lawyers must project that effort so that the client is aware of what is being done on their behalf.
2. The Business Affected
All clients want a lawyer who understands their situation; in the case of business clients, this means understanding the industry and the client’s place in it.
Understanding the industry and the business are essential to resolving related legal problems in an optimal way.
Many lawyers are unconsciously incompetent in this regard. They believe that their knowledge of the typical legal requirements of a specific business or industry reflects an understanding of that business or industry. For example, they think that knowing how to manage the legal requirements of aircraft leasing makes them an airline industry expert when, in fact, understanding terrorism, fuel prices, political stability, etc. are key to the executive suite of the airline.
3. The Satisfaction
Clients are satisfied with lawyers who listened to them.
Clients are satisfied when their expectations have been managed and shaped in such a way that they are capable of appreciating what the lawyer has helped them to achieve. When lawyers fail to shape the expectations of their clients (and most lawyers fall into this category), they set up a losing game in which they are never able to measure up to what the uninformed client naively imagines is possible.
Footnote: People judge everything they encounter in their lives on the basis of experience, and your clients are no different. We must not lose ourselves in the substantive elements of the practice of law such that we forget for even a moment to care about what our client is experiencing in the moment. Many organizations now recognize that this issue is so important that they have created a position called “chief experience officer,” or CXO, who is responsible for making every piece and part of the encounter between the consumer in the organization a positive, meaningful and hopefully memorable experience.
In the first article in this series, I discussed:
The third and final article will be:
Law Firm Differentiation and Delivering A Signature Client ExperienceMike White
“We insist on excellence”; “We staff matters leanly”; “We understand your business”; “We always put the client first”; etc. These are just a few of the yawning refrains of law firms trying to appear “different” in the marketplace – we all can agree that marketing pablum is not in short supply! The truth is that law firms aren’t very good at understanding (let alone articulating) why they may be very different from their key competitors. And you can’t expect clients to be any more enlightened about real areas of differentiation than are the providers themselves. So what we’re left with is a marketplace of cynical business consumers who believe their law firms are overcharging for an intangible service they view to be no more than a sophisticated commodity. If law firms really are that different, how can they make themselves “more different” or differentiated vis à vis peer firms, and – more importantly – in the eyes of their clients and prospects?
Let’s step back a minute and look at an example outside of law. McKinsey may be the preeminent professional services firm on earth. Despite hiring really accomplished people, their consultants still attribute most of their success to being part of the McKinsey platform and learning “the McKinsey way.” If asked how McKinsey is differentiated in the marketplace, a McKinsey consultant would cite a laundry list of features – “We hire really smart people just like our competitors but we additionally look for five to seven personality traits that we feel help us deliver better consultants to our clients”; or, “All tier I management consultants produce great work product but we feel that our disciplined methodology around putting together a client study is special and produces better insights – we’re a bit dogmatic about our process but we feel clients benefit . . . “; etc. Any McKinsey consultant could point to 10 to 15 other qualities that make the firm and each consultant “special.” More importantly, McKinsey’s clients and the market recognize many of these qualities.
Differentiation only matters and is only appreciated if it confers benefit on the client. Differentiation – if we are to embrace it and care about it at all – should be experienced by your clients both directly and indirectly. If your clients are benefiting from the way you deliver your service but it is not perceptible to them (e.g., professional training in the early years that produces a certain kind of lawyer and a certain kind of work product), then your lawyers need to educate clients and prospects about these less perceptible differentiating elements.
While the commitment to client-experience innovation does not require a firm to perform open heart surgery on itself, it is very much a multi-faceted and multi-disciplinary mission. Among other things, it involves a lot of discovery, research and development, training, packaging/productization, and implementation that can be pretty unnatural for firms. It’s also a marathon, not a sprint. A firm and its practice groups must evolve incrementally yet persistently over a sustained (i.e., multi-year) period of time. As you think about your own firm’s need to differentiate more meaningfully, keep in mind a few of the following thoughts:
This Is Not a “Branding Exercise”
Real differentiation is not just taglines or slogans; rather, it is reflected in a portfolio of processes, managerial methods, recruitment criteria, technology, cultural sensibilities, training, firm structural features, incentives, and other elements that represent the unique ways in which the firm “does business.” These elements have to be operationalized in appropriate ways across the firm – they have to be real, and they can’t be “vaporware.”
You’re Already Doing It
Some of the most differentiating features of a firm or practice group exist right under your very nose. For example, when a small subgroup within your corporate M&A practice group routinely gets its hands dirty with post-acquisition business-integration issues, that expansive approach to M&A work is a unique feature of the M&A group; all M&A lawyers – and the firm as a whole – can benefit from being known for this approach, and delivering a signature client experience. Think of how many other powerful “best practices” already exist within your four walls which could be inventoried, syndicated, and called on to support a signature client experience!
Innovation Needs to Be Part of Your Culture
Differentiated client experiences are “innovative” client experiences. Firms that are serious about delivering a law firm analogue of “the McKinsey Way” to their clients have to be innovative. Legal innovation today is most powerfully presented in the areas of legaltech, process, alignment, and analytics/decision support. Spend some time thinking about these areas as you build out your own firm’s signature client experience.
“Team of Teams” Rather Than a “Flotilla of Rafts”
Process and integration “win” over individual celebritydom and “artistry.” Yes, clients and prospects need to know you are a firm made up of great individual legal artists – if prospects are already talking to you then they have largely concluded this already. However, in order to leapfrog other law firms that prospects might be considering, you need to do a better job of explaining why your artists become turbocharged through their interconnection and integration with the other lawyers who are part of the same firm platform. Your firm should be a “team of teams” rather than a “flotilla of rafts,” and your lawyers should be able to educate prospects about how structural and cultural incidents of such translate into real, objective value to them.
The above highlights represent just a few of the important elements in a thorough client-experience innovation initiative, which by definition has to be holistic. Take the time to understand all the ways in which your firm and its lawyers are special today; take the time to discover additional client-benefiting innovation elements that you are not yet, but could be, supporting. Do all this – and more – and you’ll be well on your way to creating a “signature client experience,” and as a result, and very different law firm!