“We partner with our clients.”
“We build relationships with our clients.”
“We understand our clients’ businesses.”
Blah, blah, blah. . . .
What does all this really mean? Generally speaking, not very much!
Clients don’t have time to tell you how to add value, but they are very open to working even more closely with law firms that anticipate their needs, particularly outside of the legal silo. For example, the firms that relationship-broker, measure and report on their results, and help law departments look beyond the day-to-day to envision how work will be managed “tomorrow,” will be delivering “the whole product.”
So how do we build real partnerships with clients? There is no cookbook, but a law firm might start with the following:
- The Annual Business Plan – Assuming your dialogue with your prospect or client has some history to it, ask them to provide you with the output from their own planning process. You’ll learn about priorities from the key internal clients of the law department. Moreover, you can “coach” your law department contacts on how to anticipate the most important needs of the business functions of their company that they support.
- Other Business Services Providers – Companies rely on many different kinds of business-services providers. From investment bankers, lenders and strategy consultants, to accounting firms, business insurance consultants and executive recruiting firms, law firms can work to integrate what they do with the solutions being implemented through other business-services providers. For example, they can work closely with risk-management consultants to help companies define a more comprehensive and multi-disciplinary (legal and risk-management-consulting) litigation-prevention strategy.
- What’s This “Consigliere” Thing? – GC’s and law departments have an unquenchable need to establish their innovation and process-authoring identities. Help them learn about some of the better practices in running a law department by making them part of your own firm’s innovation development effort.
- Create Tomorrow – C-suite executives may be the only managers at a company who think ten years out. Try to require your prospects to get beyond the day-to-day and brainstorm with you about what their market and various internal roles will look like in ten years. There is a good chance you will be the only outside lawyer having that kind of discussion with senior management.
There are legion opportunities for law firms to become helpful to clients around the edges, but you need to learn what those contours look like. Of course, you will necessarily find some gaps and priorities that are pretty far removed from anything you can impact. These are great opportunities for you to marshal your own stable of subject matter experts (e.g., investment bankers, strategy consultants, etc.) and put them in front of your clients.
So, become a “whole product provider” and begin your intellectual field trip of your best prospects and highest potential existing clients. In the words of Dr. Seuss, “Oh, the places you’ll go!”
Edge Principal Mike White, an expert in the field of law firm growth, works with firms and practice groups in two primary areas: client experience innovation & differentiation, and strategic planning for growth. He also advises firms on business-development skills training/planning/coaching, law-firm succession planning, lateral-partner integration, and partner-compensation restructuring.