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Written by Norman Clark
Published: 11 December 2020
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Moonlight by Winslow Homer (1836-1910)

remarks by
Norman Clark
Walker Clark LLC

IBA Law Firm Management Conference
Moscow, Russian Federation
11 December 2020

Throughout the past year, our legal management consulting firm has conducted virtual meetings with our clients to understand better the practical challenges they have experienced from the COVID-19 pandemic and how they have responded.

So, very little of what I have to tell you are my own ideas.

 

 

Instead, I would like to share some observations and guidance that our clients would share with you if they were here today.

 

This year has been a challenge for every lawyer and law firm.

But some of our client law firms have told us that 2020 has been one of the best years ever.In the early part of the pandemic – in April, May, and June – law firms attributed their continued good performance to internal management practices.

These include, for example:

• A reliable business plan that anticipated possible disruptions, and

• Ongoing attention to cashflow, especially the management of working capital.

However, a third factor – which some law firms mentioned even back in April – became even more prominent as the year continued: Getting even closer to our clients.

Here is how the general counsel of a multinational company described one of their outside law firms – a small law firm in Latin America:

“During the most difficult crisis our business has ever faced in more than 30 years, they were more than just excellent lawyers – they proved again and again that they are our friends.”

Another person, a high net-worth private client in Asia, expressed it in these simple terms:

“My lawyer is my best friend.”

That is something that is always good to hear, but what does it really mean?

How can we become “best professional friends” of our clients?

This client was talking in terms of a professional friendship, not a personal friendship, but many of the elements are similar.

For more than eighteen years, our firm has been surveying and interviewing the major clients of our client law firms, to understand more clearly the factors that are most important to sophisticated consumers of legal services. We have surveyed more than 3,600 law firm clients and conducted more than 1,000 in-depth interviews during this time. We ask about the importance of twenty standard factors in the decision to hire or continue to work with a law firm.
A set of five characteristics have clearly emerged from this group of twenty.

These five factors have always emerged at the top.

Each one of these factors is always rated as decisive by almost every client. This means that, in order to be considered for engagement by the client, the law firm must be prepared to deliver each of these quality indicators.

A law firm that fails deliver them is not likely to be hired again.

 

We have also observed that successful law firms have been more proactive this year in communicating with their clients, to understand better what is happening in the business environments in which their clients operate.

There has been a shift in the focus of some law firm marketing teams. Traditionally they spent most of their time giving information about the law firm to clients and prospective clients. In 2020 many of them now spend more time listening to the market and learning more about their clients. 

 

The best approach appears to be client by client.

We recommend that law firms have a client relations plan for every major client. It should directly address an issue that often is overlooked:

What specifically are we going to do to build and sustain trust with that client?

Trust is the foundation of all lasting friendships, both personal and professional. But, as in any friendship, trust must be more than a slogan. It should be demonstrated in big things and little ones, the first time and every time.

 

I have two final points that are my own ideas.


First of all, every law firm is unique and so is every client. In these challenging times especially, be skeptical of people who try to promote a magic formula or a set of so-called best practices for successful and sustainable client relationships.
Second, being a best friend to your client involves continuous communications – not just a marketing call once or twice per year. It also requires listening – rather than giving sales pitches – and working hard to understand what your client needs from you.


In that sense, the six most powerful words in client relations and business development are these:

What do you need from me?

 

Norman Clark

 

For more information about how Walker Clark can help your law firm build stronger, sustainable client relationships, contact Norman Clark by e-mail or at one of the telephone numbers at the bottom of this page.