Please enjoy this blog post authored by Glenn Hoxie, Senior Project Manager, Practice Innovation and Legal Solutions, Paul Hastings LLP.
Many of us have tested our green thumbs in the last two years. Some of us have managed to create a beautiful garden, grow the perfect gardenia, and learn from those constant challenges which impact the new gardener. As one of my interviewees shared, building and maintaining a client relationship is akin to growing a garden and making it thrive.
My conversations with industry leaders in the Knowledge Management, Legal Project Management, and Pricing areas resulted in other unique ideas, suggestions, and examples around building an outstanding client relationship. Thank you to Amy Monaghan, Purvi Sanghvi, Ali Shahidi, and Cassie Vertovec for your time and insights below.
A new relationship stems from myriad sources which are often the result of proactive measures or reactive situations. The successful leader will take advantage of the reactive situations. The outstanding leader will find ways to be proactive.
- A client reaches out directly with ideas or requests (e.g., seeks opinions regarding the use of a new AI technology tool)
- A partner enables a relationship (e.g., partner learns of the value of legal project management during a presentation by a Firm legal project manager which, in turn, causes the partner to have conversations with his client about their own LPM support)
- A problem is presented to the partner or key business unit leader (e.g., concerns around extensive write-offs requires partners and business units to focus on improved matter management processes)
- A partner invites key departments to formative client conversations (e.g., Pricing attends a pitch process or participates in negotiations)
- A client legal ops representative highlights a specific matter management pain point which prompts the Firm legal ops counterpart to consider action
- A Firm professional identifies value adds, beyond solely legal, which her team can provide to a client (e.g., provides partners with relevant talking points on the value behind the Firm’s legal project management team)
- A Firm professional gradually establishes credibility with the partner or managing partner which leads to increased participation in client-facing or general strategy conversations (e.g., successful client innovation implementations which lead to the ability to host a panel of client legal op professionals)
- A business unit leader strategically identifies top clients, filters on those with a legal ops department, and then reaches out via social media to establish a new relationship
- A business unit leader builds relationships leveraging various industry groups such as CLOC, ILTA, and LVN
- A unit leader builds on an existing client counterpart relationship and, in the process, identifies needs and then coordinates with the partner on suggested improvements
Watering and Feeding
Those new relationships may die on the vine if you do not maintain and grow the relationship. Successful leaders will identify various ways and attitudes to ensure this care and feeding happens and, if successful, grow the small seedling into a rich and vibrant gardenia.
- Establish credibility which may lead to new opportunities (e.g., a matter management expert establishes trust with a partner for one matter which later turns into managing the partner’s entire profile).
- Communicate constantly with the client. This will result in fewer surprises and the ability to anticipate needs sooner.
- Identify alternate ways of connecting with the client (e.g., hosting an event on behalf of the client such as a symposium or other educational event)
- Deliver consistently and constantly align
- Provide the right level of details at the right time
- Communicate in a way that enables your partner’s and client’s success
- Implement a feedback mechanism with the client’s line of business. As an example, a client’s GC may not always know of conversations between the VP of Finance and law Firm counsel. A line of business feedback method allows the law Firm to have a deeper level of understanding.
- Ensure partner engagement particularly when implementing changes that must be undertaken by both client and Firm. Encourage partners to evangelize benefits and set expectations with the client.
- Leverage your relationship with your client counterparts in a way that allows the partner and key client contacts to focus on legal activities (e.g., law Firm legal ops should leverage their relationship with client legal ops to address to business they can handle)
I’m watering plenty. Why are the leaves turning yellow?
Like weeds, challenges will surface despite our best efforts. A seasoned and successful leader will keep those challenges at bay or, at least, within control.
- Some challenges are predictable. Examples include the difficulty in providing enough time and resources to each client. Another example is the partner who is engaged with the client at every level including administrative activities. Learn from those predictable challenges and address before your next engagement.
- Some challenges may be predictable but are nuanced such as translating value to clients especially with high rates. Brainstorm with internal colleagues and trusted client contacts to find the best way to communicate.
- Confront challenges early on is key since the stakes are high and can reflect poorly on the Firm.
- Approaches to handling challenges include: do not be intimidated by people or projects, focus on what you can control, and understand the people who are dealing with.
- Although frequently daunting, challenges may often allow you to discover shared values or future projects.
What has gardening taught me?
The increasingly seasoned gardener learns new tips or factors along the way such as soil quality matters or over watering is not good! Similarly, leaders constantly learn and improve the how, what, and why’s of building relationships. An able manager will take what they have learned and apply to future relationships.
- Understand where opportunities and challenges lie requires client engagement. It cannot happen in a vacuum.
- Understand the data and what it is telling you is valuable, but perhaps more valuable is understanding the people through authentic connections. As one interviewee said, “stay human.”
- Understand what keeps your clients awake at night.
- Gain the support and trust of Firm leadership for your objective to deepen your client relationships.
- Demonstrate to clients you are willing to invest.
- Stay relevant to ensure the roots grow over time. Find opportunities to plant positive seeds. Sometimes this can happen in expected situations such as during an unexpected pairing up with a partner during an attorney retreat bike ride.
Thank you again to the industry leaders for their insights and experiences. The ideas above will serve either as new ideas for the young relationship builder or a nice reminder for the seasoned veteran.
#Law Firm and Client Relationships#ProfessionalDevelopment#LawFirmandClientRelationships