Often, law firm leaders and business development professionals are puzzled by why it’s so difficult for lawyers to develop client relationships. ‘Why don’t lawyers get it?’ we frequently hear. ‘It’s not rocket science!’
I disagree. I think it’s about confidence and having a sensible process. For many lawyers, relationship building falls outside their priority list. They are foremost technical experts and work in a highly competitive, pressured and deadline driven business environment. However, many hide behind this reason too.
Successful client relationship building is complex, comprising time, emotional intelligence, persistence, willingness and, yes, a process. At any gym, you’ll find personal trainers coaching clients. The client wants to get fit and change habits.
Lawyers need to see relationship skills in the same way. A business development ‘personal trainer’ provides a framework of structure and guidance with quantifiable goals for the ‘trainee’.
Here’s a basic framework I've used to help lawyers:
1. Identify and focus
Foremost, help the lawyers identify the top five to six people they would like to get to know better. These individuals could be anyone – from people they have worked with but don’t really know or someone they met briefly at an event. With some existing, positive connection, lawyers are more likely to make the effort to build relationships with them. Lawyers work with people, not companies.
At the same time, it’s imperative that the lawyers (not the coach) gather as much information on these targets as possible – business titles, current and previous roles, common contacts and so on. This will serve as the foundation upon which to build the relationships.
Such an approach is more likely to secure lawyer participation – asking them to target 100s of contacts from the CRM system is not only daunting, but even unrealistic.
2. Give quantifiable goals for activities
Knowing what to do next is critical. Set some relationship development goals for the lawyers. It could be finding an opportunity to meet up with each of them once a month, finding out something new that is taking place in their targets’ organisations, inviting them to an upcoming event and such. Keep it simple and focused.
Similarly, help the lawyers identify a reason to meet the contacts, including a call to action for the interaction. Encourage lawyers to identify things that they could learn about and work on with the contacts, such as a recent merger, new role or something your firm has worked on, which could help them and their firm. It’s about giving something, not just taking. It’s about showing interest and meeting a need.
3. Ask then to paint a picture of the relationship
A meeting is never over until a summary note is written and logged in the CRM system. Remind the lawyers or their personal assistants to input the details of the interaction. It’s akin to painting a picture, which is continuously improved with every session. Overtime, lawyers will start seeing the value of their efforts because the information will be truly useful. And this is when the habit of relationship building and adoption of the CRM tool will take hold in the lawyers’ psyche.
With such an approach followed by all lawyers in the firm, CRM will soon embed in the organisation as a business discipline.
The reason why so many firms struggle with securing lawyer buy-in for CRM and relationship building is that the language used is frequently divorced from its actual meaning. Help lawyers overcome their initial hitch and the rest will take care of itself. This process outlined above relies on nurturing and engagement – not just information gathering, which is a major flaw in approach when adopting the discipline.