The business of law: Keeping hold of your clients – some tips on a vital skill

At the moment our team is strategically analysing the management of our existing client base and how we ensure we retain it in the future. Here are some tips…

Before they embark on the battle of winning new clients, law firms must ensure they keep their existing ones happy – an invaluable (and lucrative) skill. To my mind, client retention is just as important a business development initiative as pursuing new clients.

Sehaj Lamba

You will know that the role of the lawyer has changed dramatically in recent years and firms now place as much emphasis on softer business development skills as they do on technical ones. A key skill is effective client care and the ability to foster strong working relationships.

To be a successful lawyer, you need to become key to your existing clients and really be their ‘trusted advisor’. But clients hold the bargaining power and have the freedom to shop around as much as they like in the overcrowded legal market, so how can firms keep hold of them? Here are a few (of many) ways:

  • Once a client has instructed you, make a good impression and do a very good job the first time around! This is what enables a firm to build a strong reputation with clients and means they will come back. If clients are treated well and given their money’s worth then they are likely to be loyal. This is why you might hear that lateral partner hiring is a trend at the moment: partners move firms and their clients move with them. Indeed, some partners have loyal client bases who have been with them for years.
  • Invest in developing your relationship with your existing clients – be friendly, helpful and continuously build a rapport with them. Personal relationships with clients are vital. Manage their expectations and if problems do occur along the way be open and honest and resolve them quickly.
  • Gain feedback throughout your relationship – politely request it at the end of a particular piece of work. If there happens to be anything the client wasn’t happy with, ensure you find out about it and address it.
  • Cross-sell services and try to keep all of the client’s current and future work within your firm, if within its capabilities. Our firm is full-service and caters to the needs of businesses and private individuals and as such in-house referrals are a big deal for us. I am continually astounded by the number of clients who instructed us many years ago on a property matter who come back with a commercial one, because they liked us that much the first time around and remembered us. Make sure your clients are fully aware of all the services your firm offers, as it makes life easier for them and better for your firm.
  • Be keen and opportunistic and don’t wait for your clients to ask you about one particular problem. Be savvy and ask them about any problems they are experiencing and think of ways in which your firm can assist. With business clients our department’s approach is to get to know their businesses and needs well so that we are the first lawyers they think of when something crops up. It is far easier to instruct someone who already knows the ins and outs of how your business works and your commercial needs. Business clients, in particular, often appreciate some added commercial value from firms in addition to technical legal expertise. For example, invite your business clients along to know-how seminars to network, keep developing your relationship with them and demonstrating an active interest in their business. 
  • Be proactive in managing relationships and keeping in touch. Make sure you keep a database of your existing clients and update it continually. Once a matter has finished, check in on clients where appropriate and update them on topics which might be useful to them such as relevant developments in the law or areas which might be of benefit them. 
  • Keep clients up to date on your firm’s development and stay on their radar –  send them newsletters, blogs and case studies on how you have helped other clients which they might read with interest. Also keep them up to date with new developments at your firm. For example, our firm has recently set up an education department and we are making sure existing clients know about this, particularly as it is a ‘hot area’ that a lot of our existing clients ask about.

Unfortunately the hard work does not stop once a client has walked through your door. In the highly competitive market we are operating in, you must remember to work just as hard to retain a client than you did to bag them in the first place. Even if they don’t instruct you again immediately, remembering the above will put you in good stead for when they do need a lawyer in future. Put effort into keeping your clients, as this is basic yet essential part of your firm’s business development. 

Sej Lamba is a trainee at Hanne & Co

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