October 1, 2012
Making sure that clients can get in touch is obviously an essential element of any attorney’s client communications strategy; however, the attorney must do more than simply wait until a call comes in from the client to provide value in the relationship. Attorneys should be mindful of the business needs and personal activities of their key clients and establish a system for passing along relevant information on things related to the client’s market or simply “staying in touch” by sending a note to the client on birthdays or other special occasions. As the client relationship develops the attorney should create a profile of the client’s business and specific legal and regulatory issues and then establish a procedure for identifying articles and reports that may be of interest to the client. This information can be sent through regular e-mail communications that are managed by the law firm’s marketing department; however, the attorney should supplement the transmittals with a “personal touch” that includes a few words on how the information might be useful to the client and what the attorney can do to assist. For example, an article about another company’s problems with employee use of social networking tools might be the catalyst for developing an appropriate policy on that issue for the client. Attorneys should also keep their eyes and ears open to learn more about the client’s interests away from their business. If the client’s daughter enjoys basketball the attorney can make the client a “hero” in her eyes by arranging for “hard to get” tickets to see a college or professional game. In fact, attorneys should always try and find ways to deal with clients on a personal level outside of the professional setting. Some attorneys enjoy throwing parties with clients at their homes as a way of showing the client a different side of their personality and building a broader relationship. In so doing, clients may think twice before they are tempted to take their work elsewhere.
Another way to proactively manage, and hopefully expand, the client relationship is seek out opportunities to observe how the client approaches strategic and operational issues. Attorneys should suggest to their client that the attorney be invited to internal meetings where participants will be discussing new products and technologies and/or new strategic initiatives to introduce existing products into new markets or reduce costs by shifting activities to new locations. The attorney should not charge for these visits and instead should focus on learning more about the client’s business and spotting potential legal issues associated with the plans that the client might be making during those meetings. John Petrovich, the General Counsel of the Alfred Mann Foundation in Santa Clarita, CA, was interviewed in the San Francisco Daily Journal on October 25, 2010 and explained how he put this strategy to use in the following way: “I spend a lot of time here in meeting. I do that both to educate myself on technologies and because you never know when something is going to come up in a meeting that has legal implications. There’s intellectual property coming up everywhere around here. When someone comes up with an idea, you want to seize on it and get that documentation going.” After the meeting is completed counsel should prepare a brief summary of the issues that came to mind and send it to the client with a few suggested solutions and a request to get together to discuss how the attorney can help.