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Thoughts on Building Cross-Generational Leadership in Client Relationships

The competition for quality talent at all generational levels at AmLaw200 firms continues to be fierce. Attracting and keeping quality talent is part of every industry. Law firms seem especially sensitive to changes in staffing given the need to establish and maintain client relationships in a turbulent market.  Unique challenges exist in integrating newer law firm attorneys into existing client service teams.

Silvia Coulter, event co-chair of Thomson Reuters’ upcoming 23rd Annual Marketing Partner Forum, is a founding Principal of LawVision Group and leads the firm’s Client Development and Strategic Growth Practice.  Silvia has spent twenty years as a consultant to the legal industry and has served as chief marketing and business development officer at two Global 50 law firms.   Below is a recap of a dialog with Silvia concerning the development and integration of younger firm attorneys into the service of existing law firm clients.  

Jennifer:  Are there any rules of thumb of how long it takes to develop a relationship with a client by a junior attorney at a law firm?

Silvia: Client feedback has been that it’s not too early to start introducing members of the client team to the client ten years out.  Also the feedback from clients has been quite strong that they want to be involved in the decision, and not told, about who will succeed as the client relationship lawyer. This is a good thing to keep in mind since this next generation of client decision-makers is really clear about what their expectations are.

Jennifer:  Are there any strategies for bringing in less experienced attorneys up to speed to help assure clients that they have the background necessary to warrant the rates they are charging and that they can adequately handle their company’s legal matters?

Silvia:  The best strategy is to always involve the clients in the discussion. They do not like surprises. Planning the client team with the client can be a very valuable relationship-strengthening strategy. Also, really understanding the client’s issue and risk for each matter makes a difference in how one staffs the matter. For example, a client may want an 80% job for a quick opinion or in another case need a 120% solution and is willing to pay for it. Ask the client if he/she is OK with an associate you the team who the relationship lawyer trusts with his/her client relationship. The most important thing about this and I stress critically important, is to check in with the client and ask them for feedback about team members who work with them. In some cases, the client is assuming what they discuss with team members gets back to the relationship lawyers which is not always the case. As a relationship lawyer it is critical to check in about the team. That is their responsibility.

Jennifer:  General Counsel have generally welcomed check in calls and visits from law firm leaders who manage their accounts.  Are there any strategies or best practices in bringing in or introducing younger attorneys to existing clients?

Silvia:  Client visits are a great opportunity to model the behavior of good client management to younger lawyers. Invite them along and make them part of the process. Clients have young people on their team too so it makes sense to suggest to the client they invite their younger members to meet the firm’s younger members. Building relationships can never start too soon. Here’s a potential challenge. Some of the more senior relationship lawyers are not used to doing this and do not always practice good client relationship skills. It’s become a big challenge for many firms. There is a growing gap between the age of the buyer and the age of the firms’ relationship lawyers.  Be mindful of this gap and exhibit good leadership. Integrate the clients’ team members with the firm’s team members. It’s a responsibility that some take lightly but that is being short-sighted and the firm that supported the relationship lawyer needs to remind him or her of this.

Jennifer:  What else can firms be doing to build ties across generations?

Silvia:  Recognizing what others may bring to the firm’s culture to enhance the working environment is critical to the firm’s long term success with client and with talent retention. An all-too-common issue these days is the inability of senior partners within 10 years of retirement to begin to integrate younger partners into the client relationships at their age level with client peers.  No one is suggesting that these partners give up their livelihood lock stock and barrel, in fact when they retire, many of their client contacts may be retiring as well. Instead, integrating younger generations from both the client and law firm side is essential for client retention. This should not be left up to the individuals but rather a leadership imperative that supports long-term success of the firm.

I greatly appreciate Silvia taking the time to share her thoughts.   A panel discussion about building diverse, multi-generational client teams is a part of Thomson Reuters’ 23rd Annual Marketing Partner Forum to be held January 20-22, 2016 in Orlando, FL.    The Marketing Partner Forum is a three day event which brings together law firm management, rainmakers, practice group heads, business development leaders and corporate counsel for networking and interactive sessions addressing strategies for developing and maintaining long term law firm growth.  Click here for more information.

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About this Author

jennifer schaller National Law Review  attorney legal publisher law news business updates
Managing Director

Jennifer Schaller, Esq. is the Managing Director and co-founder of the National Law Review on-line edition.  Prior to the National Law Review, Jennifer most recently served as in-house counsel / director at CNA Surety. She also served in various marketing and business development roles as a vice president of Aon Services Group.  Jennifer started her legal career in as an insurance coverage attorney with Smith Amundsen, LLC in Chicago, IL.

In 2016-17, Jennifer is serving as the Vice Chairman for the Chicago steering committee for the Legal Marketing Association and on the Women...

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