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The Singapore Law Gazette

Law Firm Marketing and Business Development

Going the Extra Mile

In today’s increasingly competitive market for legal services, it is no longer sufficient for lawyers to handle clients’ instructions in a professional and timely manner. Law firms need to go the extra mile by providing “value-added” services. What can you do to go the extra mile?

Business Strategy

Undertake an analysis of your firm’s strengths and weaknesses. Then formulate a business development strategy that sets out how the firm is to be positioned in terms of:

  • services
  • markets
  • client types
  • resources
  • service delivery
  • pricing models

Ask the following questions:

  • Does the firm have a fundamental understanding of what its key clients do and the markets in which these clients operate?
  • What is the firm doing to ensure it stays current on commercial and legal developments that affect its key clients?
  • How do the firm’s lawyers develop and maintain expertise in key clients’ areas?
  • Does the firm have adequate and consistent processes in place to ensure a detailed understanding of client needs?

Acquire Industry Knowledge

Building credibility with a potential client usually means demonstrating an understanding of their business and industry sector. Maintaining comprehensive industry knowledge is a key component to effective business development.

This knowledge can be obtained by reading industry news (much of which is available free online), attending industry conferences and reading (or even commissioning) research reports into industry trends and developments.

Understanding Client Needs

Very often, when instructed especially in the more technical practice areas, lawyers are guilty of enthusiastically rushing off to provide pages of academically sound advice before truly grasping the client’s commercial objectives.

Clients prefer lawyers who take the effort to align legal advice with relevant and client-specific commercial advice. Bear in mind the following:

  • Are you constantly asking the right questions to ensure that you are not providing advice in a vacuum?
  • Do you ask challenging questions that enable you to provide the required client support rather than simply meeting the client’s expressed instructions?

Help with Horizon Scanning

Law firms are best connected to upcoming legal developments and are well-positioned to know the changes coming over the horizon. Help your clients prepare and plan for these changes. Think ahead by advising them on what they should be doing now in their businesses in anticipation of future developments, rather than when the changes have come into force.

Provide insights into up-coming issues (not just legal) which will impact an industry, including how organisations are planning to deal with these issues, is one way of marketing your firm’s capabilities. Such thought leadership legal updates can be used to commence discussion with key clients on their preparedness for change and to benchmark their practices against other industry participants.

Clients want to know the market practice on areas of law or transactions. Benchmarking data is commonly provided by other professional advisers. Think about providing data on a range of outcomes on a particular legal point or transaction which would not breach confidentiality. This gives comfort to the client that their negotiated position on a transaction is not out of line with market practice and is invaluable when advising their senior management.

Differentiate Your Legal Updates

Clients receive numerous generic updates from law firms on legal development, much of which may not be relevant to the client’s specific business. Personalise and differentiate your legal updates from the generic by telling them what is relevant to them. For example, “cut and paste” the relevant parts of your regular practice area or sector update and send the client the information and insights that are tailored to their business.

Timing Your Legal Updates

Is it better to update clients speedily or deliver a well thought through analysis later?

Clients prefer high quality information quickly. Consider sending an immediate headline point on a legal development with a considered analysis later.

Client-specific Seminars and Training

Apart from on-site client training at your office, take seminars out on the road to the client’s premises and tailor the material to their needs. Broaden your client training beyond the in-house legal team. Sometimes, clients need training for their organisations’ non-legal teams on basic legal principles.

Consider training for the client’s staff, on their premises, to update them on the latest legal and regulatory requirements facing their organisation/industry and how to deal with these. For example, training can be in the form of coaching commercial teams on basic commercial terms, key contractual “dos and don’ts” and advice on when to escalate issues to the in-house legal team.

Market and use other members of the law firm and not only partners to deliver training. Firms frequently conduct most aspects of client relationships through senior partners. A more junior or specialist lawyer may be better placed to deliver on-site client training.

Facilitate Industry Networking

Clients often want to hear what others in the market are doing about certain issues and to bounce ideas off them. Act as a conduit for discussion by bringing together industry players, including representatives from your key clients, to discuss important developments across the industry and how to deal with them.

Your law firm’s involvement can range from organising very informal gatherings to a full-fledged conference. Combine training with opportunities to network. Clients can be drawn to an event by the list of other attendees.

Involve Your Clients

Partner with your clients on legal consultations affecting them. Talk to your clients about developing the law and not only implementing it. Your clients can work with you by providing the supporting voice of industry on the proposed law.

Avoid Overt Cross-selling

Adopt a subtle approach when promoting your firm’s capabilities. Most clients do not welcome overt cross-selling by firms. They usually have firms that they instruct, and until they become dissatisfied or have a specialist requirement that none of their incumbents can provide, they are usually happy with the status quo.

Introductions to your fellow partners are best made when a real opportunity has been identified and when you know the client will be receptive. Regular client service review is one way to identify such opportunities. When conducting client service review, demonstrate to the client that the lawyer/firm understands the issues it is facing and has the resources and experience to provide solutions to these. Invest in research to understand these issues and partner time to meet face-to-face with the client to discuss the implications.

Good Communication

  • Does your firm ensure that its lawyers clearly define the scope of the client advice provided?
  • Does your firm have a process to ensure that throughout the client matter lifecycle, there is communication at regular intervals with meaningful updates?

Usually, client dissatisfaction is due to parties not clearly defining the scope and timing of the client engagement from the onset. Even with a well-defined scope of work, expectations can change as the matter progresses. Lawyers should regularly check-in with their clients to ensure that expectations remain in sync so that potential misalignment can be addressed.

Lawyers are detail-oriented people and focussed on the nuances and complexities of the law. When issuing legal advice, do not be afraid to turn the complex into a simplified summary incorporating the basics. Very often, the recipients of your advice are non-lawyers, who can be at different levels in the organisation.

Conclusion

There are no easy pathways to developing and retaining good clients. However, genuine communication and taking proactive steps to understand client needs will put a law firm on the right path.

Director of Legal & Compliance
Singapore Academy of Law

Angeline has been in the legal profession for 30 years. She practised corporate law before specialising in risk and knowledge management, where she was head of department for two leading law firms. She is currently the Director of Legal & Compliance at The Singapore Academy of Law.