Building Valuable Client Relationships: Part 1

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Attorney Client Relationship DevelopmentThis article is the first in a series of articles on relationship development and its relationship to improved income for lawyers.

One of the concepts most lawyers fail to grasp is the different types of relationships that are possible between an attorney and a client.

Your clients trust you.  They invested their trust in you before they ever invested their money.  Yet most attorneys do not treat that trust with the respect it deserves. They don’t nurture it and allow it to develop properly.  This prevents the relationship from growing over time.

This is one of the key differences between those whose law firms at an exponential rate and those whose law firms grow at an incremental rate.

Clients pay a premium to lawyers with whom they have deep relationships. It is a transcendent quality.

Included in this article is a chart that outlines four different types of lawyers.

Can you determine, at a glance, which quadrant most of your relationships fall into?

Attorney Marketing and Relationship Development

Ad Hoc Lawyer

The lawyer who handles matters as they surface is what I refer to as “The Ad Hoc” lawyer.  The term itself finds its roots in Latin – meaning “for this.”

If you are an ad hoc lawyer you get telephone calls for matters as they arise, regardless of your practice area.  In other words, your relationships with your clients are reactive in nature.

You are always waiting for a new situation (often a crisis) to develop and you are waiting for the client to call you in reaction to that crisis.

The Expert

It is of no importance whether or not local bar regulatory bodies sanction that title of “expert.”  Some attorneys, due to their talent, skill and experience, are more likely to achieve a positive outcome in a certain types of matters than others.  Those people are experts.

The expert is engaged on a situational basis.  Expertise in a specific area has value to a client but it rarely translates into a relationship beyond the specific situation.

The General Counsel

Within any large organization you will find someone heading a legal department.  Typically, this person has responsibility for assessing legal risk, developing legal risk mitigation strategy and assigning legal work to lawyers within or outside of the organization.  In most cases, the internal general counsel is an attorney but in all cases, he is a procurement and finance officer – concerned with achieving best outcome for lowest possible investment.

This internal general counsel is not the person we are focused on for this discussion.  Our focus is the person this internal manager turns to when he has a problem.  Often he will turn to his counterpart on the outside – a generalist with expertise in procedural areas (litigation or transactions).  The external general counsel is a broad sword solution to most problems (including those which may require a scalpel).

The push/pull of accountability between finance and outcome leaves most outside lawyers wondering why the relationship with an internal general counsel never develops beyond a certain point.

The Trusted Advisor

A Trusted Advisor has a relationship that transcends the typical attorney/client relationship. Finances are never an issue in this relationship because the trust, guidance and support are invaluable.

Ascending to the level of trusted advisor requires developing an uncommon level of intimacy with your client.  Intimacy is difficult to establish and even more difficult to maintain over time.  It requires work.

Many lawyers will be frightened, put off and intimidated by the concept of “intimacy” in a work-related setting.  These feelings alone preclude them from becoming trusted advisors.

In our next article in this series we will discuss how you can transform some of your client relationships into relationships that transcend financial boundaries.