Do they have a client following? This is typically the very first question our clients ask us when presenting them with our senior candidates, say 6pqe+. A client following is pretty much a pre-requisite in the current legal market if you want to move at partner or senior associate level to another law firm - without it you’re going to find it incredibly difficult – especially in the current legal market. So what is a client following? And how do you get one? These are the questions you should be asking yourself as an assistant if you want to progress up the ladder to partner.
So what is a following? Essentially a client following means having strong relationships with your clients and if you moved to another firm these clients would very likely continue to instruct you because of the nature of the relationship you have with them.
First of all it’s never too soon to start. I have come across newly qualified solicitors who have a start of a solid following and when they have moved firms upon qualification clients have moved with them. You are never too junior to have one.
So how do I get one? Here are some ideas – some more obvious than others but all will assist in gaining greater and deeper client relationships and put your career firmly on the fast track;
Position yourself for client inheritance
Become an expert in a specialised area – know more about an area of law than any other person in your firm. Find a growing area and know what’s hot and what’s not. Write articles/blogs and give speeches/seminars on specific areas of law relevant to current developments, invite current clients and new ones, follow up on all who attended – you’d be surprised the number of people who omit this.
Get to know clients well – know a bit about their background, family life, sports and interests which will enable you to be able to converse with them about other things than the law! People don’t want to talk business all the time and you will be surprised how easy it is to build a stronger lasting relationship when you know more about them.
Bend over backwards to service the client – be available for them when they need you, aim to meet their deadlines and take their call no matter how busy you are! Client is King!
Build a network – keep in touch with your University friends as many of them will eventually end up working at target companies/clients and will also hopefully recommend you to their counterparts!
Sell yourself well within your own firm to partners in your own team and other teams – if you say you are willing to attend networking events and be an active participant they will invite you again – and probably welcomed the support you provided – even if it was moral support!
Organise your own client development initiatives – they don’t have to be on a large scale – anything which takes you out of a business setting and gets you to know and understand your client better will help.
Provide excellent service and offer further add ons – such as newsletters, legal updates, events for your clients to meet others in their industry, secondments, and dare I say free advice from time to time? Don’t forget the business advice as well as the legal advice.
Visit clients place of business, contact clients before an issue might arise, keep clients informed and always take their call!
Become visible, physically and on the social media platforms (LinkedIn and Twitter for example) – join relevant industry groups and comment on topics. Be known as the ‘go to’ person for legal advice in that arena.
Write blogs and podcasts on your new found expertise. Send it to new (targeted) and current clients.
Be memorable and you will be recommended.
Have your own database
Set up your own database of contacts – every time you meet a new contact make a note in your database and follow up with a quick email to say how much you enjoyed meeting them. Don’t forget to find them on LinkedIn. Contact them from time to time to see how they are and mention any new legal updates that might be relevant to them. Keep building this database and perhaps find a colleague who is doing something similar and see if you can work on growing each other’s as a combined effort.
Know thy client
Research and understand your clients’ businesses, read their web pages, the business pages on their company and sector. Minutes on the company shareholder’s meetings are also a useful insight.
Set up Google alerts on specific topics and let them know if something relevant arises as well as deepening your own knowledge.
Provide solutions before the client knows they have one. Regularly ask for feedback from clients and don’t be afraid to ask for referrals within their industry group.
Write your own business plan/target client list (it doesn’t have to be long) and set yourself achievable goals and how you are going to do it? Regularly refer back to it and update/amend as necessary (a great tool in helping you start on the partnership track – it’s never too early!