by Jim Durham / February 13, 2017
There should be a note on every lawyer’s desk that says, “What have I done today to make clients and others in my network more successful and more comfortable?”
One of a client’s best measures of a lawyer is whether or not they add value to the work and the relationship. Value means providing more than the basic legal work for which the client hired you. I have heard the word “value” described in many ways, but for a client working with a lawyer it almost always means: “I get something more than what I paid for.”
If the legal work you did was competent, and the fee you charged was appropriate for the work, then (using this definition) the “value” would be zero. Providing a client with what they asked you to do is not a bad thing, but without more, the perceived value is minimal. In a competitive marketplace like the one in which lawyers practice, you must provide more than simply that for which you were hired.
For some clients, extra value can be found in helping them stay abreast of regulatory developments, or providing regular summaries of the status of matters, or helping their best friend get a job or tickets to an event. To another client, value comes from the fact that you spend time at their offices learning more about their business, or having a great number-two lawyer on the team. For some people who do fast-paced deals, value is found in the fact that you are not constantly calling them for input and instructions; for someone else, it is the fact that you often seek their input. To know what your clients value, you must communicate regularly and clearly.
One increasingly important value proposition is effective matter management. Great lawyers keep the client informed of the progress and status of their matters (without overdoing it, or being a pest); they tell the client who is handling the work and when it will be done; and they make clear what the client needs to do to help the lawyer get a good outcome.
Clients also find value in lawyers who are on top of specific, relevant legal or industry developments that might impact their business strategy, and they value the opportunity to provide meaningful feedback, so long as the lawyers are willing to make adjustments to their service approach if the client asks for it.
Much of what it takes to add value to a client relationship takes only a few minutes a day. Lawyer value is not found in writing lengthy transmittal memos, doing excessive research, or making speeches; it comes from calling, emailing, or visiting clients to learn what they are thinking, and what problems you can help them solve. It means initiating contact to show that you care. This latter point is particularly important when you are not actively working on a client matter.
It takes seven contacts per year for someone to have you in mind when they need a lawyer or they have a chance to refer someone to a lawyer. The biggest mistake I see among lawyers who are trying to build a practice and establish a great reputation, is that they do not initiate contact with or stay in touch with people for whom they are not currently working.