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While clinching a new client contract is a thrilling experience for most law firm attorneys, nurturing long-standing relationships is the real key to success. Established clients can bring in greater returns for law firms over a longer time period, and the stronger your working relationship with them, the more likely they’ll act as rich sources of knowledge, business referrals and personal references when such needs arise. With that in mind, consider the following:
1. Immerse yourself in your client’s business.
Today’s competitive legal field makes excellent service and value to clients critical, as noted in Robert Half Legal’s Future Law Office 2020: Redefining the Practice of Law. Win your clients over by showing a genuine interest in what they do. Your clients are passionate about their businesses and will appreciate your interest.
Stay current with your clients’ industries by reading trade publications, magazines and newsletters. Setting a Google alert for news about clients’ companies will keep you informed of the latest developments. Staying on top of trends will help you contribute in meetings with pertinent comments and intelligent questions.
2. Understand that your clients are individuals.
Your clients care about their businesses, but that’s not the sum total of who they are. Like all of us, they have families, favorite sports teams, hobbies and other interests. Legal careers require interpersonal dealings, and your chances of success improve if you are able to establish common ground and build trust.
Before meetings officially commence or after they draw to a close, engage in some informal chat that shows you’re interested in who your clients are. Make the most of any common ground you share, which could mean inviting them to local events based related to their personal or business interests.
3. Communicate effectively.
Find out how your clients like to be contacted — by email, over the phone or face-to-face — and use that method whenever you can.
Ask at the outset what they’re hoping to achieve, and send regular updates to detail progress on a project or give reasons if work has stalled. Eliminating guesswork on both ends is one of the payoffs of effective communication. Chat informally, if that’s how clients are most comfortable, and if communication isn’t your strong point, invest in a short course. Many legal careers have flourished thanks to these soft skills.
Do what you said you would by the time you said you’d do it, and then go further. Adding little extras to your client relationships will lead to win-win situations. If you see news you think may benefit your clients, share it. If you have another contact they would benefit from knowing, make the introduction. If you spot a potential sales lead, pass it on. Being useful has boosted many legal careers.
5. Involve everybody.
You may deal primarily with your clients’ decision-makers, but you’ll also interact with plenty of other individuals. Treat them well. First, you never know who’s watching. Second, these could be the people the decision-makers confide in and whose opinion they trust. Finally, you never know where people’s careers will take them. You may end up working more closely with them in the future.
Keeping your clients happy and satisfied is a skill that reaps rewards from the beginning of a law clerk career right through to a role as partner. The key is to treat interaction as a part of something bigger and not just an opportunity to book billable hours or make a sale. Once you see your clients as more than a source of income, they’re more likely to treat you as more than another expense item.