How can lawyers and accountants build stronger client relationships?

As a lawyer, accountant, patent or trade mark attorney or barrister, you are totally committed to your clients.  But what do you need to do to make sure your clients know this?  Or looking at it a slightly different way, how can lawyers and accountants build stronger client relationships?

Doing good work is of course always going to be key to building strong client relationships.  However, it should also be a given so although it may annoy some, I’m not going to include it in these tips. 

I’d like to stress I’m not leaving this out because I underestimate the power of doing good work.  It’s because unless you’re working for in-house counsel (or an in-house patent attorney or seasoned FD who started in private practice), it’s highly likely your client will not understand exactly what you’ve done and how you’ve done it. 

They’ll only judge on the outcome and, just as importantly, how they felt while the work was being done.

And it’s the things you do while the work is going on that will mark you out and help you build stronger client relationships, so these are the tips I’ll share in this blog. 

9 easy ways for lawyers and accountants to build stronger client relationships

1. Under promise and overdeliver

People like nice surprises so if you think a piece of work will be completed by Friday, tell the client it’ll be with them by close of business on Monday.  Having it before the weekend will impress them.

2. Manage expectations

Things do not always go quite to plan but clients understand this as long as you communicate clearly. 

If there will be a delay or if there’s been a hitch, tell the client what’s happened and why and set a new deadline.  And if you really want to impress them, send the odd update (unprompted).

3. Stay in touch

Dropping clients a line (unprompted) from time to time to ask how they are, provide an update or share relevant some local/industry news, is a very easy win but something far too few professionals do.  It shows your clients you are thinking of them and have their best interests at heart.

And from a BD perspective, the reply is highly likely to include a question or request that could well turn into a new piece of work.

4. Pay attention to your profile

Whether your practice is regionally or sector focussed, you will instantly underline your credibility if you have a profile within the geography or industries you operate within.

Think about how to get published in the right publications, how to get into the right conversations on social media, how to get speaking slots at the right events and how to actively participate I the right groups and associations.

And from a wider BD perspective, doing all of this will also get you noticed by a lot more people, any of whom could become your next client.

5. Make clients aware of everything you do

People tend to pigeon hole their advisers.  If you look after their commercial contracts or tax return, that is what your clients will associate you with and could well have several other advisers all doing one job for them.

Unless you keep updating them on the other types of work you/your team/your firm does, they may never realise you could be doing a whole lot more.

Many lawyers and accountants think clients will atomically check out their websites and work their way through all the practice areas for themselves.  They won’t!  It’s your job to drop these other options into conversation and, if required, make the necessary introductions to your clients.

Please, please, please don’t think of this as being ‘salesy’.  It will automatically make your clients’ lives easier if they are accessing everything they need from one source …

… and the more ties there are between you and your client, the stronger your relationship will be.

6. Add value

Added value is not a newsletter or an invitation to your Christmas drinks.  Real added value is getting to know your clients and their businesses and families so you can work out exactly what they need from you and how best to deliver that.

It may be they are shorthanded in the office and would benefit from a secondment.

It may be that they are looking to open in a new location and would benefit from introductions to other businesspeople in that area.

It may be that they’re looking to launch a new service and would benefit from introductions to potential buyers in your network.

It may be that you are looking to launch a new product that would complement the services you already provide and make their working lives that little bit easier.

As a first step I’d suggest listing out your major clients and work out one thing you could do that would add genuine value to each relationship.

7. Communicate value

As a lawyer or an accountant, the first thing your client sees is your price and believe me, nobody’s first response is “that seems very reasonable”!

You need to demonstrate the value of paying your fee.  Explain what you are doing and why and the outcome your client can expect because of your intervention and effort.

Moreover, tell them what is likely to happen if you don’t do your thing which is more than likely going to involve more cost, more time and more stress at a later date.   

8. Commit to helping

People tend to go to their advisers when they need help but how much more help would they ask for if they knew you were more than happy to help whenever and however you can?

This may sound a little strange.  Surely you are there to help anyway.  Absolutely but do your clients know that?

There is still a little awkwardness when it comes to getting in touch with your lawyer or accountant.  Are they too busy to talk to me?  Am I allowed just to get in touch and ask a question?  If you reinforce the fact clients can get in touch as questions arise, that awkwardness will disappear.

And don’t worry, you won’t be opening yourself up to a torrent of non-billable questions.  Clients will be respectful of your time.

9. Be on time

Again, you probably think this is a given, but you would be surprised how many clients are kept waiting (often without apology or explanation) while the fee earner they’ve come to see gets organises/finishes the call they’re on/sends that essential email.

This is terrible form!

By being late you are intimating you have more important things to do.  This will weaken your relationship with the client and potentially leave them looking for a new adviser, someone who will put them first.

Make sure you are clam, composed and ready to start on time and during your appointment, do everything you can to make your client feel they are your only client.

These are all things you can do (for free) to strengthen your client relationships but ultimately you don’t just want to maintain your clients, you want to grow them.  This is why we’ll look at what you can do to create and implement more effective client development plans in our next blog.

If you would like to discuss how your lawyers and accountants can build stronger client relationships in more detail, please get in touch.  Or if you’d like to organise some BD training to ensure your fee earners are taking the best possible care of your clients (and know how to find more!), please email us to ask for a copy of our current Learning & Development directory.

Published by sizetenandahalfboots

Douglas is a director of Size 10½ Boots, a specialist business development agency that works solely with the professional services, helping firms grow by winning more new clients and more work from the clients they already have. Although every project is different our work generally falls into one of three camps - strategic marketing support, BD training and 1on1 coaching and independent client research.

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