Managing partners often don’t follow closely enough what their practice groups are doing to develop and maintain their client relationships, a conference in Sydney heard last week.
Canadian lawyer and founder of Edge International, Gerry Riskin, told the World Masters of Law Firm Management conference law firms should be “obsessing” about clients to ensure that the maintenance of those relationships is not overtaken by billable work.
This could even extend to inviting a client to board meetings or at least imagining that they are attending to ensure that decisions are made not only in the best interests of the firm, but also of its clients. “If the client were in the room, what would you say or what would the decision be?”
He said while most managing partners still have to do some billable work, they must make the effort to keep a close watch on how their partners are maintaining and building new relationships with their clients.
“The managers, in my respectful opinion, based on the briefings I get from them, are not managing,” he said. While many will have good strategies to remain competitive, he said, managing partners were not always keeping a close watch on what was actually being done to implement those strategies.
“Senior management needs to meet frequently with the practice group leaders, asking them what they are doing, how they are doing it, and [asking] ‘do you need any help?’.
“So management’s job is to continually be following up and helping, not admonishing, not catching people doing things wrong and embarrassing them, but in a positive way — ‘We are having a meeting next week: how’s it going in your group? And by the way, I need a positive report as I need you as a role model to demonstrate … to the others that it can be done’.”
To ensure a “client service culture”, he suggested that firms have a quantitative way to measure “client satisfaction”. This could then be turned into a “client satisfaction score” that is allocated to each partner as part of their key performance indicators.
John O’Shea, president of the Australasian Professional Services Marketing Association, told the conference that understanding clients involved not only their business but what concerned and interested key decision makers personally.
“You need to tap into what is happening in that organisation. You have got to be more than just a very well trained, insightful lawyer,” he said. Understanding the client or potential client included getting to know what “drives the business” as well as the key people who will be making the decisions that would affect the law firm.