I am a corporate partner in the Business Legal Services division in London and at Irwin Mitchell our watch word is CARE, which is “Clients Are Really Everything”. Without clients there would be no work and therefore no firm and so it is the responsibility of everyone to bring in new clients and, most importantly, to keep all clients happy.
On the business side, we act for corporates, financial institutions, entrepreneurs and high net worth individuals and families who are buying, selling, investing, contracting or litigating with another party. Clients come to us through a variety of channels; referrals from intermediaries (e.g. corporate finance houses, accountants or agents), referrals from other law firms, referrals from existing clients and direct contact through our website. Our relationships with intermediaries and other referring law firms are key to us and we invest a lot of time and effort in making sure that those relationships work well and are (where possible) reciprocal.
Winning a new client is sometimes a feat in itself as in today’s competitive market, as we are often required to go through long and time consuming tender processes generally culminating with a pitch presentation. For a lot of clients the pitch is crucial as it gives them the opportunity to see the team that they will be working with and get a feel for how they operate. For us it is our chance to differentiate ourselves from other law firms – all firms will say that they can do the job, so what becomes important is the rapport which we are able to build with the client and very often the relationship which we have as a team.
Once we have won a new client, and for all existing clients, the task of keeping them happy is a continuous one. For some clients we are in regular contact as we are advising them on various matters on an ongoing basis. Other clients may only need our help every now and then and so the challenge is to keep in touch and keep in their mind. Social media and marketing alerts help in this regard but this sort of contact should always be targeted, otherwise it becomes irritating. For our key clients we offer more focussed legal updates, training opportunities and the chance to network with other clients in their sector. We try to position ourselves not just as lawyers but as trusted advisors and think about the business issues which our clients might be facing and how we can help.
It’s not all hard work; there are opportunities (within Bribery Act constraints!) to develop client relationships in a more social setting. This might involve watching or playing sport, going for dinner and karaoke to celebrate the end of a transaction, attending private viewings at a gallery or a museum or hosting a table at a charity event. Spending time with clients out of work helps to cement relationships and often creates an opportunity to introduce the client to the wider team or to people from other areas of the firm.
At Irwin Mitchell, like other firms, we run a Client Relationship Program, where, on an annual basis, key clients are interviewed by a partner from a different area of the business to check that they are happy with the service they are receiving from the various teams which they are using. This adds a layer of objectivity and clients like the opportunity to have their say. It is unusual to discover that something is fundamentally wrong but you sometimes find that there is a link which hasn’t been explored, something more which we could do for the client that will increase their overall satisfaction.
As I mentioned earlier, the responsibility for clients is one which we all share, from the trainees to the partners. We provide soft skills training in how to go about networking but, most importantly, we involve junior members of the team in client events and client management so that it is natural for them rather than daunting. Trainees at Irwin Mitchell are given a lot of responsibility and have a lot of client contact in their work. Building on this, they are encouraged from the start to develop a network of people at a similar level from existing client contacts and their friends, recognising that, one day, those people may be future clients of the firm.
Clients Are Really Everything, and a lot of hard work (and some play) goes into making sure that this is the case at Irwin Mitchell.