Building Valuable Client Relationships: Part 3: Do You Have Guts?

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It’s 4AM and a corporate executive cannot sleep.  The issues facing his business are threatening his company and his livelihood.  His career is on the line.
Successful Lawyers Have GutsHe reaches for the telephone and places a call to the one person he knows will help him evaluate the situation in a rational and sober manner.

Are you on the receiving end of that telephone call?

If the answer is “no” or “not often” you will probably never make the kind of income you deserve.

In that moment, the corporate executive (or affluent client, professional, public figure) calls someone he trusts. Someone he knows he can count on.  Someone who, regardless of field of professional accomplishment or avocation, will give him sound guidance even when that means delivering unwelcome news.

Most lawyers never become trusted advisors.  They are simply content being experts in a specific area of the law.  An expert can command a significant fee premium.  An expert takes some risk but ultimately, can only be evaluated or compared to another expert.  An expert also gets to sleep through the night without ever taking the desperate telephone call from a powerful client.

But the expert is only used sparingly.  He rarely gets to give guidance and counsel on matters outside of his purview. The expert never has a permanent “seat at the table” let alone at the right hand of the person in charge.

The Key

Making the transition from expert to trusted advisor is not complicated but it is risky.  That’s why few lawyers do it.

The risk lies in emotionally engaging people in a place where emotions are seldom spoken of, and never on display. The boardroom.

Experts can get into the boardroom but they seldom have what it takes to stay there.

How Do You Make the Transition?

Let’s say you are brought in to advise a board of directors on a merger. This is a fairly straightforward process.  Typically you deliver your commentary and findings to the chief counsel of the company.  You are thanked.  Paid well. Dismissed.


This happens because you did not take the next step.

If you went the extra mile and evaluated the merger and it’s implications on the business landscape 5, 10 and 15 years down the road, and you provided strategies for handling the legal pitfalls you know would arise at each interval, you would have a seat at the table.

Again, most lawyers won’t do this.  It involves risk.  In fact, chief counsel of the company won’t do this because of the risk it involves.

That’s why YOU will need to give the presentation to the board of directors.

Once You Are in the Room

When the time comes to report your findings you stress their implications on the leadership of the company.  You highlight the pain each of those executives will feel if certain action is not taken.  You support your assertions with facts and case studies (stories) of huge colossal errors made by not following the guidance you have set forth.

You challenge the most powerful people in this company to take action or face disaster.

Then you sit down and wait.

Either you will be a hero or you will be fired.

Now it is slightly more complicated than that.  There is significant relationship development work that precedes this dramatic moment.

But the question I have for you is:

Do you have the guts to lay it all on the line, every day, just like this?

Because if you don’t;  If you just want to analyze and report; You can be a successful lawyer.

But you can never be a trusted advisor.

This article is the third in a series on developing business as a Trusted Advisor. Links to the other parts are included below for your review. 

Part 1: Developing Relationships as a Lawyer

This article highlights the relationships that form during your representation of a client.  It is a roadmap to higher fees and a better life.

Part 2: It’s All About Trust

The qualities of a Trusted Advisor are outlined in sharp detail.  You can evaluate your emotional make-up against them and determine if you have what it takes.