Please enjoy this blog written by Melanie Segraves, Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP.
Chances are, this won’t be the first blog about collaborating with clients that you’ve read. The legal industry is known for its buzzwords (ahem, innovation) and right now collaboration is having a moment.
How important is collaboration in a legal setting? When Law360 interviewed the leadership of several global law firms last year, leaders said that a “collaborative spirit” was one of the four most important traits they look for in a partner.
You may agree that collaboration is important and still find it a challenge to pinpoint your role in encouraging attorneys and clients to collaborate. Writing this blog allowed me to think through some of the things our KM department is already doing and how we might use our team’s strengths to move the needle on collaborative client projects.
Here are some of the concepts that came to mind:
One common trait of most successful collaborators is that they’re also good listeners. Active listening takes practice and it’s most effective when you learn what the right questions to ask are. For example, one question I might ask a client at the beginning of a project is, “What processes or technology have you used for “X” type of matter in the past? Was there anything you liked or disliked?”.
It’s a simple question, but the answer will hopefully provide insight into a client’s workstyle, their aptitude for technology, and if they’re having any hesitations about the collaboration. For example, if a client is accustomed to managing certain processes via a master spreadsheet that’s never left their internal DMS before, they’ll want reassurance that collaborating with your firm will elevate their capabilities without straying too far from what they are accustomed to and comfortable with.
Don’t Oversell the Tech
Many attorneys want to show clients that their firm is on the cutting edge, but beware the oversell when it comes to technology. If you spend a lot of time talking to a client about the most advanced features of a product because you think they’re exciting, it may send the message that you don’t really understand their needs. Worse, it could seem like you don’t really understand the technology either.
Something else to consider - other firms your clients work with likely have the same or comparable technology available to them. Instead of positioning your firm as cutting edge, try showing the client how little training they’ll need to get started or how easily your technology can be integrated into their current processes.
Clients want to know that you’re making technology choices with them specifically in mind. No matter how great a system is, if you can’t explain how it’ll ultimately make the client’s life easier, you won’t get buy-in from the group. Or as an attorney at our firm once explained it, “That dog won’t hunt.
There’s No Replacement for Human Connection
Human connection is important to the practice of law and even more crucial to sustaining collaboration with clients. Whether you think that sounds mushy or not, it’s true - most of us would prefer to work with people we like and in order for collaboration to take place, there has to be mutual trust.
Certain technology can help attorneys form closer client relationships, which may lead to natural collaborations occurring more often. The most obvious example of this is probably video conference technology with the benefits of a video call mimicking those of an in-person meeting.
But some ways that we’re able to connect with clients are less evident. Consider doing a quick, informal “audit” of your existing legal tech. Which products have collaborative elements? If collaboration isn’t the main purpose of that software or platform, are attorneys actually using the collaborative features? Are there ways you can build awareness of collaboration tools within the firm? One idea that we’ve discussed is hosting a CLE workshop where we invite clients to learn about technology in a face-to-face setting alongside our attorneys.
The main takeaway from all of this is that collaborating with clients is a win-win for everyone involved. But to make it happen, we may need to develop new strategies that are more intentional in encouraging collaboration between attorneys and clients.