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Influencing the Client Experience - Takeaways from LMA Capital's Half Day Program Part 1

The LMA Capital group brought together a record number of legal marketers in the D.C. area on Wednesday, October 29th to discuss how best to positively influence the client experience and foster lasting relationships between their firms and clients. Tara Weintritt, partner at Wicker Park Group, kicked off the program by setting the scene for attendees. In the past, law firms focused on touting their experience and success in handling particular matters. However, Tara elaborated that smart, capable, intelligent lawyers are baseline characteristics. Clients want to know how you can help them and what it’s like to work with you. After speaking with over 1,500 in-house counsel, the folks at Wicker Park Group have been able to identify seven major areas of concern that are consistently at the forefront of these decision-makers’ minds: adding value, credit, succession planning, billing and budgets, communication, managing expectations, and responsiveness. Tara provided direct quotes from actual client interviews as an introduction to attendees, but six thought leaders in the legal marketing industry gave in-depth (but brief!) TED-style talks to really drill down to the heart of why these are concerns for clients, and what can be done to address these concerns.

Adding Value -  Creating a Culture of Strategic Business Intelligence

Gina Lynch, of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, kicked off the first TED talk. Clients want to know how you can add value to the relationship that does not show up on the billing report. This is where competitive intelligence teams are valuable in influencing the client experience. Firms must go above and beyond the requisite skills required for establishing the business relationship, which are thorough writing and analysis skills. The firm counterpart must demonstrate that he or she can understand the complex research.  CI teams must fully understand the work the client does. Ms. Lynch elaborated, “they need to be able to talk like your client, act like your client”. It not enough to present a report to the client. They want to know how this is relevant to them, what their competitors are doing and what their long-term strategy might be. Ms. Lynch also advocates for the CI team to be outside of the marketing department so it can be involved in all aspects of the firm’s relationship with the client: intake/pitch, research, knowledge management and retention. This circles back to the notion that it’s critical to understand the work the client does. Finally, the relationship should be client-focused! This is a no-brainer as members of the team should be living in the client’s world so it can play offense when a problem comes up. If a CI team is strategically informed, it can spot opportunities for growth (or damage control) when a new situation arises.

Credit and Succession Planning – Creating Strong Client and Industry Teams for the Long Term

Ms. Weintritt, at the start, elaborated that a major concern clients have is not being involved in or more aware of transitions within the firm. Tara Derby, of Reed Smith LLP, in the next TED talk, discussed how to mitigate this concern, and ultimately develop a long-term, successful relationship with the client by creating strong client teams. A successful client team will be focused on leadership, collaboration, a proactive and intuitive approach, and strategic client engagement. There are two things that need to be accomplished in order to build a strong client team: 1) the right client relationship leader must be selected, and 2) he or she needs to work hand in hand with the key account manager, or client relationship driver. This leader needs to be organized, efficient, client-facing and engaging. It’s important that the correct leader and team be in place or else service provided to the client will be only mediocre. Teams are only effective when there is a high level of collaboration across the firm, but people that are part of the team need to make a positive impact on the client. Strong client teams are proactive, not reactive, and to do so requires the team to know the client’s needs, culture, and ultimately how they think. Clients will feel understood and listened too because the relationship is 100% centered around their needs.

Billing and Budgets - Doing Your Homework: Strengthening and Growing Client Relationships Through Better Scoping, Budgeting and Risk Assessment

Since the major shift if the legal industry a few years ago, clients have been more cost conscious. As Melissa Prince, of Ballard Spahr, elaborated in her TED talk, the quality of the work matters less than the value the work provides the client. In terms of cost-effectiveness, clients want transparency in the budgeting process and improved budget forecasting, more than the lowest cost. In terms of scoping, it’s important to develop the client relationship to understand the client’s goals and business objects. This means speaking to the client about their needs before the scoping process. The key thing is to put everything in writing: matter phases, tasks, expected deliverables, proposed timelines and deadlines, responsible time keepers, etc. It’s also key to identify assumptions, that is, to identify what is and what is not going to be included in the matter. In terms of budgeting, use historic financial data to identify ways to improve efficiency. The budget should also be documented in writing as specifically as possible. It should include metrics such as hours work, type of work, who will be completing the task, identifies different hourly rates, and outlines low and high estimates, as well as start and end dates. To preserve a positive client relationship, any overages that arise should be communicated as early as possible. Properly managing their expectations for the scope and budget of the representation will help improve the firm’s efficiency, but also deepen their relationship with the client.

Stay tuned for part 2 of LMA Capital's Half Day Program.

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