These days, it is not enough for lawyers to handle clients’ instructions in a professional, timely, and cost-efficient manner. The market for legal services is extremely competitive and clients are increasingly looking for firms that go the extra mile by investing in providing ‘added-value’ services, usually free-of-charge. So, if one of your key clients requests such services, what should you do?
There are two issues here: what services should you be making available and how much investment – usually non-chargeable time – should you be putting into each client?
How much time to invest?
As the time and cash invested in providing these services is a cost which reduces the overall profitability of that client relationship, it makes sense to invest more in the firm’s key clients, ie those which currently generate the greatest billings and profits, or those where there is the greatest potential to grow income.
As a rule, I would advise investing up to 5% of total billings in providing such services to key clients, but make sure that all members of the team record their non-chargeable time invested in each client in this way. This way, the investment can be monitored and ROI analysis can be carried out.
Which services to provide?
In no particular order, and certainly not an exhaustive list, firms should consider offering the following types of activities to key clients, remembering to consult each client on which they would find most useful.
1. Bespoke legal updates
There can’t be a law firm in the land that doesn’t provide legal updates or newsletters to its clients, but how many of you produce bespoke updates for each of your key clients, ‘cutting and pasting’ the relevant bits from each of your regular practice area or sector updates, to give the client just the information and insights that they need to do their jobs more effectively? This information can then be provided as a PDF or online.
2. Client-specific seminars and training
Again, there can be few firms that do not run seminars for their clients, but how many of you take seminars out on the road to the client’s premises, tailoring the material to their needs? An extension of this is to run training sessions for the client’s staff, again on their premises, to update them on the latest legal and regulatory requirements facing their organisation/industry and how to deal with these.
3. Sending lawyers on secondment
Sending staff on secondment to a client cuts both ways: the client gets additional in-house legal resource, and the firm gets the added insight of better understanding a client’s business by having one of its lawyers working full-time in-house.
Rather than offering to provide lawyers, usually junior ones, at no charge, I would advise charging the client at least an amount that will cover the lawyer’s salary and other employment costs. This will be far less than charging the lawyer’s full hourly rate and, therefore, should still be advantageous to the client.
4. Facilitating industry networking groups
There is no better way to demonstrate a commitment to a client’s industry than to act as a conduit for discussions about that industry. Setting up an industry forum with the view to bringing together industry players, including representatives from your key client(s), to discuss important developments across the industry and how to deal with these will place your firm and its lawyers at the centre of your client’s world.
The firm’s involvement can range from organising very informal gatherings at one end of the spectrum to running a fully-fledged industry association if such a body does not already exist in a particular jurisdiction. Hosting roundtable discussions, organising conferences, and undertaking industry-specific research (see below) are all examples of ways in which the firm can engage with the industry.
5. Producing Thought Leadership reports
Providing insights into up-coming issues (not just legal) which will be impacting on an industry, including how organisations are planning to deal with these issues, is a very powerful way of marketing your firm’s capabilities. The Thought Leadership reports which arise from such activity can be used to instigate discussions with key clients around their preparedness for change and to benchmark their practices against other industry participants. It also places the firm’s lawyers in a very strong position to lead the debate in the media and with other industry stakeholders around these issues.
Increasingly, law firms are embracing Thought Leadership, taking a lead from the Big 4 accountants who have been doing this for years. However, in my opinion, whilst there are a lot of surveys around, often one-offs, there is little true Thought Leadership coming from law firms, if only because Thought Leadership must be sustained over a prolonged period to be effective.
What is your firm doing?
As I said at the beginning, this list is not exhaustive. If your firm provides any other ‘added-value’ services to its key clients, please let us know about them.
Kevin Wheeler is a business consultant and coach with more than 20 years’ experience working in legal marketing and business development. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org