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From Good Law to Great Law™ Your Top Questions

Our recent webinar, "From Good Law to Great Law™: Building a Culture of Business Development and Distinctive Client Experience," sparked some great conversation among attendees. How do you build a culture of law that:

  • develops and maintains authentic client relationships;
  • understands and provides counsel in context of the client business;
  • communicates in ways that build trust and loyalty;
  • demonstrate appreciation for clients and their business;
  • seek and act on client feedback;
  • demonstrates care in billing and fees? 
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The Importance of Understanding Your Client's Business

Whenever I conduct a client interview for a law firm, the first question I always ask is “What do you like best about working with the firm?” The answer almost every time is that the primary lawyer “is really responsive and really knows my business.”

Think about this for a moment. In over 175 meetings with clients, that is the answer I get about 90% of the time.  In the face of that data, how can we think that anything is more important to a lawyer’s professional reputation than being responsive and knowing the client’s business?  Individuals and business clients of every shape, size, and industry want the same basic things from their lawyers.

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How to Personalize the Lawyer-Client Connection

A fundamental aspect of great lawyering is recognizing the importance of personalizing the relationship to some degree. In almost every client interview I have ever done, the clients have said that it is important for their lawyers to be “people we like to work with.” They want you to be someone with whom everyone at the client company (or family business or the association) likes to work. Personalizing the relationship does not mean that every client has to be your best friend; it does not mean you have to lavish them with fancy dinners or tickets. But clients make it very clear that “chemistry” matters.

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How to Create a "Value-Added" Client Relationship

There should be a note on every lawyer's desk that says, “What have I done today to make clients and others in my network more successful and more comfortable?" 

One of a client’s best measures of a lawyer is whether or not they add value to the work and the relationship. Value means providing more than the basic legal work for which the client hired you. I have heard the word “value” described in many ways, but for a client working with a lawyer it almost always means: “I get something more than what I paid for." 

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Three Characteristics All Great Lawyers Share

To better understand what makes lawyers successful, I launched my own research project that included gathering qualitative data from lawyers who have a variety of traits. I talked to lawyers who were introverts and extroverts; I talked to high-powered litigators and understated business lawyers. I selected lawyers whose personalities and styles were very different, because I was tired of being told that attracting and growing clients was essentially a “personality contest.” I also checked with clients to make sure that the common characteristics I found in these lawyers were the characteristics that clients truly valued.

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How Law Firms Can Build Better Business Relationships

I define marketing and business development as anything a lawyer or firm does to keep a client's work, grow work from an existing client, get work from a new client, or enhance the firm's reputation in a relevant marketplace. This definition can sound complicated, but if you focus primarily on keeping and growing existing clients, you will actually be taking major steps towards attracting new clients and enhancing the firm's reputation.  Existing clients should be your sales force.  How do you inspire and activate this sales force? It’s not complicated.

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Valuable Practices in Professional Services

When you hire an accountant, a landscaper, or a financial planner to do work for you, what would your reaction be if they did not return your phone calls promptly or failed to ask you important questions about what you expect and what you want to accomplish? What if there were no personal connection and they did not seem the least bit interested in you personally?

What if they did not get things done when they said they would, and they sent you a bill for more than you expected to pay? What if they were working on an hourly rate basis, but seemed to have no concern at all for efficiency and had no creative strategies to minimize the time needed for the project?

For many lawyers, this list of behaviors is only modestly troubling. For clients, however, these behaviors characterize ordinary lawyers, not great ones.

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The One Thing You Didn't Learn in Law School

Early in our careers as lawyers we are taught what it takes to be called a great lawyer within a law firm: excellent research and writing skills, good negotiation and organization skills, consistent demonstration of scholarly insight, and a thoughtful (dare I say “innovative”) approach to solving legal problems. While there is certainly value in being recognized by your colleagues as a savvy technical lawyer, a terrific advocate, or a superb writer, these are—or should be—the skills of all lawyers!

To achieve true greatness, you must do all of these things, and more. You need to understand what makes clients see you as a great lawyer.

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A Lawyer's Most Powerful Business Plan

If I have learned one thing in my experience as a lawyer, consultant, and trainer, it is that lawyers typically have serious misconceptions about how they should “sell” legal services.

They think of business development as an unseemly proposition; they see it as an exercise in which they push themselves and their firms on people who don’t need or want what they have to offer.

If that were an accurate description of how you should sell legal services, I would not want any part of it either. Fortunately, that approach is just plain wrong.