By Vivek Jayaram
There is usually one reason why in-house clients hire a specific lawyer: they trust the lawyer to achieve a favorable outcome to their challenge. This is why clients don’t usually flippantly call the “best” firm in town and ask to speak with a lawyer. Clients usually think, rightfully so, that the right lawyer is one with whom they have a connection, a relationship. But that doesn’t mean that you alone should guide and counsel your client.
I have identified 4 reasons why lawyers should be getting their clients comfortable with everyone on their team. Doing so actually leads to better results and better relationships with your clients in house.
- It Will Give Your Clients More Confidence. It’s true that clients are hiring you for your expertise or judgment. But your clients will feel better knowing that you have people around you that are helping achieve their goals. Don’t relegate those team members to a cc field on an email; let them participate in teleconferences and other strategy meetings. This will build your client’s confidence in not only you, but your team members and firm as a whole.
- It Will Give You The Opportunity to Build and Manage Your Practice. If you are the only point of contact for everything for a client, your time risks getting monopolized by a small handful of clients. Some people say, “well aren’t you charging by the hour?” Sure, maybe you are. But if all your time is absorbed with a few clients, then you will not have the bandwidth to do additional development work. This does not mean that you push everything off to someone else. It requires you to responsibly delegate to team members you trust and, if you’re doing things right, who your client trusts also. This also results in reason #3, efficiency.
- It Will Make Your Engagement More Efficient. Chances are you are more expensive than your teammates (associates, paralegals etc). Even if you’re not, you working and billing alone is probably not the most efficient way to manage a client matter. Each of your team members might bring a different expertise or point of view to any particular matter. When appropriate, your paralegals and associates can probably handle a lot of your more routine work. But your clients won’t want them doing the work (or trust them to do it correctly) unless you’ve facilitated the relationship between your team and the client. This results in an unfortunate scenario where the bill might be unreasonably high (“why I am getting charged your rate to send me documents from the case?”), or it might appear as though two lawyers are doing the same work. In order to effectively delegate in a way that allows you to focus on the big ticket strategy, it is your responsibility that you form a bond between your team and the client.
- It Will Encourage Your Client to Send More Work Your Way. When an in house lawyer gets the perception that you are busy, the last thing they want to do is send another important matter to you. But if you’ve shown them that you have a team that demands trust, they will continue sending work, knowing that there are other people, not strangers, handling their critical matters. If all they know is you, they might think twice if they perceive that the matter requires more bodies which they are not clear you have.
Many outside counsel work religiously to protect the relationship with lawyers in house by controlling all the communications between the two sides. That might be a good idea at the outset, but over time it’s important to get your clients comfortable and familiar with your team. The benefits are substantial.