Don't miss your train!

  • November 08, 2014
  • Gerald Riskin

The perception of increased competition within the profession will once again make marketing trendy. We will see the repetition of the classic marketing mistake of pouring the majority of resources into collateral materials, advertising and branding, and the minority of resources into offering individual professionals much-needed client-relations skills training.

In a competitive environment, this is 180 degrees off-course and downright dangerous.

Your secret weapon is your people. Investing in them first and in the paper second, will pay the biggest dividends. The name of the game for good firms is to enhance the satisfaction level of existing clients so that competitors cannot steal them, and to attract additional work at will.

Let's shatter a couple of myths:

Myth #1: Client relations training is about helping people attract new clients.

Client relations training is about enhancing client satisfaction through a spectrum of skills that touch every aspect of client interaction. These skills include listening, managing client expectations, handling complaints and other issues relating mostly to enhancing the satisfaction levels of existing clients. The skills go on to include aggressive marketing behaviours like asking for referrals, cross-selling and courting prospective clients.

Myth #2: "You can't train client relations - people either have it or they don't."

This is utter tripe! Those who believe this nonsense would call an end to all coaching of professional athletes and would cancel all practices.

Do individuals have unique talents? Yes. Are some more talented than others? Yes. Should we therefore just accept the levels of proficiency in client relations the way they naturally fall off the tree? No. We should nurture and fertilize them, thereby optimizing them. That's why we do advocacy training. That's why juniorssecond-chair seniors.

Why do many firms major on the minors (collateral materials, advertising and branding) rather than give training its due? Because:

  • it takes less billable time – support professionals can do the lion's share of it;
  • many firms separate the training and marketing functions as if they were unrelated;
  • training is conceptually restricted to substantive practice capability only;
  • logos, ads and materials are visible – "Look! We're doing something!" – which appeases the partners, because it projects effort; and
  • many marketing professionals are often unfamiliar and therefore uncomfortable with training (there are notable exceptions - you know who you are, and bless you).
  • Here are the steps I would recommend going forward:
    1. If you are the managing or marketing partner, you had better deliver the news – prosperity will follow from helping your individual professionals become more effective in their one-on-one interactions with clients and prospective clients.

    2. Whether your individual lawyers are trying to simply keep existing clients happy, get more work from those clients, or attract new clients, help them become more effective by insisting that they spend at least two hours a month in skill development.

    3. Be prepared for sabotage. Those partners who are uncertain of their client relations skills proficiency frequently react to the idea of honing them by suggesting that the efforts are misguided. (Interpret such reactions as meaning: "I am not comfortable with this idea.")

    4. In evaluating your marketing efforts, insist on manageable bite-sized action plans on the part of every single lawyer. Delegate appropriate "follow-up," so that no one disappears from your radar screen.

Training and marketing will remain segregated in many firms. Those who understand that individual professionals have a much bigger impact on client satisfaction than does their logo will gain ground during this economic cycle.

The same enlightened few also understand that collateral materials, advertising and branding can never be more than the stage upon which their professionals perform, and should be treated a such.

Gerald Riskin is a former managing partner and a Principal of Edge International, a global consultancy serving many of the world's most prominent firms: or 1.800.707.6449.