I ran into a candidate we had placed with a large firm a while ago and we stopped to have a coffee and a chat. It is always lovely to catch up with our candidates and find out what they have been up to. This young woman had been recently promoted and was very happy with her career choice. I asked what she thought was the one thing that made sure her promotion got through what sounded like quite a gruelling process, and she replied, without hesitation, ‘I made it my business to get to know the clients’ businesses’. This is something we at empire careers understand completely!
More and more, professional service providers need to find ways to differentiate themselves from the pack. In order to advance your career, it is vital that you not only are technically excellent, but seen as a “trusted advisor” to your clients and have a deep understanding of your client’s business. In doing this, you will develop a good relationship and attract more work from that client as well as obtain referrals from that client to other potential clients.
Clients don’t just need a legal problem solved. They are coming to you as a professional person with knowledge of the law but they need a degree of commerciality as well as an understanding of their business and industry. Sometimes the pure legal solution is not the best solution. Here are a number of questions you can ask yourself to determine how well you know your client in this very competitive market.
What is the client’s business? This is not just as simple as saying, for example, logistics. Be as specific as you can. Is the client involved in this business at the local, state, national and international level?
What are the major legal issues facing the client? In the case of the example of a logistics company, they may have workplace health and safety issues, commercial agreements, supply agreements and so on.
What are the strategic issues facing this client? Is the client looking to expand or contract in the market, competing with other businesses? Are there some competitors on the market?
What is the “legal spend” of the client? This is an important question to which you need to know the answer as it will determine how much legal work is outsourced to firms, including your own.
How much work has the firm done for the client in the past? Analyse the legal spend and the nature of the work the firm has done for the client and where your expertise fits into that. Are there opportunities to cross‑sell or develop deeper relationships in a certain area? Does the client have a particular culture and does your firm fit that culture – for example, is it a young business hooked into social media or a more conservative traditional business?
Does the client have a panel of legal advisors and who are your competitors? You are probably not the only player in the legal market doing work for this client. Find out who else is doing work for them. What are their strengths and weaknesses? If you are currently the only lawyer doing work for the client, then you may not be for long if you remain complacent.
Do you know what the basis of the client’s decisions in choosing legal advisors is? If there is a panel, how do they decide where the work goes? Cost? Expertise? Relationship?
What is your relationship with the principal decision maker? If you don’t have a relationship with the principal decision maker on legal spend, then you need to start making one.
Who are the other people at the firm who have relationships, at all levels, in the client organisation? Who gets the work and in what areas? Can you be introduced? Can you introduce the client to others in the firm, in areas where the client does not use the firm?
Can you articulate why the client should choose you/your firm over other competitors? This is perhaps the most important question and the most difficult to answer, but worth thinking about. It involves self reflection and honesty, and brand awareness.
“It’s hard to convince the client that you care about his or her business when it is evident that you do not know what’s going on in it.” – David Maister