Oct 11, 2018

Written By David Carnes

Building strong relationships with business clients: the ultimate guide

Oct 11, 2018

Written By David Carnes

As a lawyer, strong client relationships will be the cornerstone of your practice. Find out how to build this type of relationship to further advance your career. 

The irony of the lawyer’s situation is almost palpable. No matter how advanced your legal skills, you’ll find them to be utterly useless unless you can attract clients who need these skills. In other words, your social skills are just as critical as your legal skills. The irony comes when you realise that the very clients whom you couldn’t have attracted through legal skills alone, seek you precisely because of these skills.

Naturally, there’s going to be some overlap between your professional skills and your interpersonal skills. Oral and written communication skills are critical for communicating with clients, opposing parties and government agencies, among other actors—yet these same communications skills can work to convince your clients of your competence and value as a lawyer. Good communication skills are more than just marketing—they are proof of your competence.

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Marketing and social skills you will need to develop

The reality of the legal marketplace is that, in addition to honing your professional competence, you’re going to need certain other skills that cannot reasonably be characterised as purely professional in nature. Following is a sampling of these skills:

Interpersonal skills

You might excel as a mathematician with only the most rudimentary interpersonal skills. Such is not the case, however, in the legal profession. Most successful lawyers have been joiners and organisers from their student days. Join organisations, seek responsibility, work in a team and learn to work with a wide range of people. Even participation in a football team can help you as a lawyer.

Specialisation

One of the best ways to excel as a lawyer is to find a niche and dominate it. Your niche will have to be broad enough to attract clients, yet narrow enough to reduce your competition significantly. International trademark law, for example, might be a niche worth considering, although even that might be a bit too broad of a focus.

Commercial awareness

Research your client’s overall business environment, not only its obviously legal aspects. When dealing with business clients, commercial awareness often makes the difference between success and failure. For a business client, every action you propose takes place within the context of the company’s overall business environment. It might not make sense for an aggrieved company to sue a critical supplier, for example.

Familiarity

Get to know the company representatives you work with on a personal level, to the extent that you can do so without being intrusive. This is especially important for long-term clients. At the very least, search the internet for publicly available information on these people. 

“B.O.B.”

Bend Over Backwards to meet your clients’ needs. Make it a habit to under-promise, over-perform and exhibit fierce loyalty towards your clients. Few lawyers will stick with their clients wholeheartedly through any kind of difficulty. Prove you are that rare breed of lawyer who will, and your services will market themselves. 

Networking

Build a network of lawyers who might provide you with recommendations or referrals. Pay special attention to lawyers who are working as in-house counsel for major companies (or lawyers who aspire to do so in the future), because they might someday introduce their employer to you as a major client. Become active in a local law-related organisation, or even serve as an officer if you have the time. 

Organise

Organise your own networking and client-development initiatives. You might, for example, organise a legal seminar in your specialty that will give you the opportunity to present a lecture in front of local business leaders.

Publish

Compose an original newsletter, dealing with industry-specific legal developments, and send it to clients and potential clients every month. Publish in your field as well.

Contacts

Create and meticulously organise your contacts database. Don’t just use it as a reference—think of useful and unobtrusive ways to connect with your most promising contacts.

Developing strong relationships with business clients can feel like a full-time job in itself, as least at first. Fear not—over time you will find ways to become more efficient. You might delegate most of the drafting of your newsletter to a subordinate, for example, or present a lecture in front of dozens of clients and potential clients rather than consult with each one of them individually. 

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