Five Ways to Get More Business from Existing Clients

  • October 21, 2014
  • Susan Van Dyke

By now, most of us know that it’s far less costly to attract more work from current clients than to bring in brand new clients. Sure, it may be more exciting to attract new clients, but it takes time, money and sometimes, a little luck.

The statistics on what it costs to attract new clients versus obtaining more work from current clients run the gamut from five to nine times. One thing is certain: attracting new clients is considerably more expensive, and there is no guaranteed outcome. With current clients, not only do you have an established relationship and knowledge of their business, you also have their trust and attention.

The keys to getting more work from existing clients include client satisfaction, fair billing practices, acknowledged skill and a mutually-enjoyable working relationship.

Getting more work from existing clients depends on how you develop the relationship, the gathering of key information, the demonstration of your commitment and the ease and enjoyment of working with you. Get on solid ground, invite and respond to constructive feedback, and then take a considered approach to getting more work.

But where do you start? Many firms focus on their top 10 clients, to the exclusion of everything else. These clients are likely on the radar of many other firms and they may be tapped out of work. If so, turn your attention to the mid- to upper-level clients; your up-and-comers who will respond best to a little attention. Run a list of your top 50 clients and review numbers 11 through 50 for potential targeting. Consider each client individually and whittle down the list to your best prospects.

Here’s what you can do to gain more work from these clients:

1. Stay In Touch

Business is dynamic and its needs are regularly evolving and changing. It’s up to you to take the client’s pulse from time to time and to keep abreast of their needs. During times of change, it is a rare client who will call (outside of a legal issue) just to keep you informed.

Client needs fall into two categories: anticipated and unanticipated. The anticipated needs – whether they are aware of them yet or not – fall in line with their business planning. They can be easily identified by asking and understanding their business goals and the challenges that lay ahead. Consider a client who is expanding operations to another province. Do they know that the privacy laws differ in each province and that they will require amendments to their current marketing practices? There are surely legal issues or necessary safeguards the client may not have identified yet.

To be first in line for a client’s unanticipated needs requires top-of-mind awareness. You need to be “present”. Clients with a lot of legal work may have several firms in mind. So, how do you stay on top? Be regular and memorable. Regularly stay in touch and do things that are memorable for the client. Your interest will indicate your commitment to the client.

While some clients welcome regular “stay in touch” calls; others want less-frequent contact. Be transparent about your intentions when asking your client:

“I’d like to gain an enhanced understanding of your challenges and plans so we can advise you with the bigger picture in mind. Of course, discussions that are not related to an active file are not billable – it’s on my own time. How often should I call you to stay up-to-date?”

Now that you know how frequently to contact the client, block time in your calendar to do so. This is especially important as the client now has an expectation that you will be calling. When you do:

  • Respond to matters or concerns of the moment;
  • Identify potential legal minefields early; and
  • Create helpful follow-up opportunities (even if it’s simply with the name of your plumber).

This type of communication is not effectively accomplished over e-mail. Ideally, a face-to-face meeting will garner the best feedback and advance your position as a genuinely interested professional. Physically meet for as many of these meetings as reasonably possible, even if you have to involve your travel agent.

Start by calendarizing “update” non-billable lunch or phone call meetings for the whole year at the beginning of each year. You’ve told the client your intention is to learn about their anticipated challenges and business goals. By setting the stage, the client is prepared to discuss macro issues. These meetings are where you listen and learn (not educate and advise). Take notes and ask questions. Between the planned updates, follow-up as appropriate (or as promised) by sending helpful information or making introductions.

To be memorable, you need to be relevant. Where’s the pain for the client and how can you help? Think beyond legal issues. Do they need a different type of business advisor? A recommendation for a tradesperson? Can you introduce them to another client for help? Alleviate anyone’s pain and you’ll be remembered.


  1. Block off time in your calendar to meet or call clients for an update on their business;
  2. Book lunches with busy clients well in advance – even consider booking feedback/update lunches at the beginning of each year (potentially saving you a lot of time-consuming scheduling efforts);
  3. Set up a system to share the information you’ve gleaned with the other lawyers in your firm who work for the client. “Client Facts” forms are easily created and updated;
  4. Schedule dates to follow-up with clients on specific issues; and
  5. Alert your librarian to the topics of interest to clients for the purposes of sending article clippings.

2. Educate

Simply put - we don’t know what we don’t know. Many times it’s the simple, but largely unknown, legal techniques that will protect a client or advance their position. A client who is educated about their area(s) of law will be alive to the issues and can budget, prepare and retain counsel accordingly.

Showcase your expertise and commitment to ongoing professional development by giving seminars or writing articles. But this is not effective marketing in and of itself; it’s akin to a product that still requires marketing to generate revenue. Sure, a seminar could have immediate marketing value in that a client may respond with more work without further effort on your part—just don’t count on it.

First, identify a seminar topic which is of interest to your target group and select a date. Then, plan your follow-up strategy before you send out invitations or write a word for your article. This will ensure you focus on value for the client and insert follow-up opportunities.

Put on seminars, write timely articles and make presentations. Not only is this an effective client-retention strategy; it also helps to identify opportunities for new work. Hold a seminar in a client’s office and address their unique issues. Use their particular circumstances in your presentation—the more relevant you are, the better. Send a questionnaire or interview the client to get detailed information to use in your seminar. Creating a pertinent fact pattern with your client is another way of making your seminar unique to the client.

Open up meaningful discussion or Q&A to learn more about their business. Encourage lateral executives to attend your session to gain another perspective on company issues and get close to other prospects.

After all of this, you’ll have amassed valuable client intelligence. If you didn’t have a note-taker in attendance, purge the information you gathered as soon as you’re back at the office. Ask yourself several questions and note your answers in a memo to the client-team:

  • What questions did I receive?
  • What were the hot or emerging issues?
  • What was not well understood?
  • What are the client’s unresolved issues?
  • What was surprising?
  • What are my follow-up opportunities?

Schedule a debriefing meeting with your key client in the organization, follow-up on opportunities for work, or address unmet needs.

The debate on whether clients should pay for seminars continues among the legal marketing community. Many firms offer timely seminars without charge as a way of adding value to their services and to create cross-selling opportunities. However, offer enough value, and clients will pay a reasonable fee. Incorporate prominent outside speakers, opportunities for Q&A and quality seminar materials and you could generate some revenue. You’ll also pre-qualify attendees as only those who are genuinely interested in the topic.


  1. Create or maintain a marketing database including client industries, areas of law and areas of interest for targeted mailings and invitations;
  2. Identify topics of interest or evolving areas of law which apply to your target group of clients;
  3. Gauge the level of interest in a topic by writing a “teaser” piece for your newsletter, website or bulletin and offer a seminar packed with plain language solutions; and
  4. Ask clients who offer you the greatest potential – in billings, referrals, or status – if they prefer the seminar be held in their offices.

Once the clients are educated, follow-up on how they can apply the learnings to their organization. Specifically, how you can help, what it will cost and how quickly you can get started.

Another effective educational method of getting more work from current clients is through reverse seminars. Inviting a client or a panel of clients to your firm to speak to staff and lawyers about the way they evaluate legal services provides valuable insight into their thoughts and methods of assessing the firm’s services. Inviting them to discuss non-proprietary business plans and goals will help you identify potential work.

One of the client’s lawyers should moderate the session with some preplanned questions. As well, planted comments and questions from staff and lawyers can keep the process rolling. Extend the invitation to members of the client-organization to observe or participate. Take notes and follow-up on the key take-away points. If you can, change the things the client dislikes (i.e. timing of bills, frequency of reporting, rate of responsiveness, etc.) and ask for more information on the issues that were unclear or need further development. Then focus on the organization’s plans and goals with a view to potential work.

3. Take Initiative

As Canadians, we are too tentative. Recently, the General Counsel of a large organization was interviewed for his client-perspective of law firms. The organization’s interests straddle the Canadian/US border, as do their law firms. The national media regularly report on their activities and potential legal issues. Which firms called to help? The American ones. Canadian firms generally don’t take the initiative to make contact. Interestingly, this General Counsel was intrigued, and not put off, by the initiative of the U.S. firms. I’d bet he’d lean towards directing his work to those firms that took initiative.

Knowing it was appreciated, wouldn’t you want to be the only Canadian firm calling to help? With existing clients, you have the advantage of directly reaching decision-makers; you are “pre-approved” – there are no hurdles, only opportunities.

So how does it work? Imagine that your list of clients who offer you the best opportunities (however you define them) is circulated around the firm and anyone who hears, reads or sees news about any one of them sounds the alarm. This becomes your “watch list”.

Sooner or later, you’ll be tipped off that something significant is percolating. Before you pick up the phone, unearth the facts by talking to anyone who might verify or add to your information. The more details you have, the better the call you’ll make. Check other news outlets if time permits. There are a few media monitoring companies (try Bowdens Media Monitoring) who can respond to your request within hours of your call. If you engage this service, offer your findings to the client at no cost.

Having assessed their situation, formulate your plan. What is the client’s most urgent issue? Can you offer immediate assistance? Do you have specific experience, unique strategies or insight that is applicable? Consider why the client should choose your firm or lawyers over another firm. Spell it out for them; don’t assume they know what you’re capable of or that they will recall a specific skill from previous matters.

The lawyer that has best relationship with the client should make the call. If the issue was exposed to the masses via the media, time is of the essence, so place the call as soon as you’re ready.

During calmer times, it is good practice to ask clients if you should take initiative when it appears that they require legal assistance. If you’re more likely to take action with the client’s approval, then ask. Otherwise, take the initiative and listen carefully to the feedback.

As a lawyer of record, you have the advantage over other firms as your call is unlikely to be intercepted. If your call goes to voicemail, go ahead and leave a message, but don’t expect a client who’s under siege to call back right away. Try again the next day if your call has not been returned. 


  1. Get permission to take initiative;
  2. Internally distribute your “watch” list of targeted clients;
  3. Hire a clippings agency to scan for a select group of clients’ news; and
  4. If you didn’t get the work, follow-up and ask for feedback.

4. Cross-sell

When was the last time you took a good look at your most active clients and introduced them to other lawyers in your firm? Try creating a matrix of your target clients and your firm’s practice areas. Check off the services you currently do for each client. Now turn your attention to the blank areas and consider which of these other services the client needs. Meet with other practice groups and review the matrix. Gather as much information as possible.

As the main client contact, it’s your role to ensure that all lawyers who work for the client deliver an acceptable level of service. Anything less will compromise your relationship with the client. Only introduce the client to other lawyers who match up well with the client.

Some firms even conduct quasi-personality tests on clients and lawyers to ensure the client has the “right” lawyer. If you have several lawyers to choose from, you might ask the client about the preferred work-style attributes of their lawyers. Do they want a lawyer who is detailed-oriented, a regular reporter, easy-going, or a lawyer who is fast, succinct and focused? What fits best with their corporate style?

Do your homework, find out as much as you can and never formulate proposals without some background information. Again, the firm member with the best relationship with the client organization should ask about these outstanding areas of law. Start with a casual conversation about legal needs and build up from there. Ultimately, ask your clients several questions:

  • What other areas of legal services do you currently require?
  • What can our firm do to attract your work in these areas?
  • Is there an opportunity for us to demonstrate our expertise in these areas?
  • Why don’t we begin with some informal introductions?

Collect and incorporate this information in your marketing plans and stay the course. Give it the fullness of time.

5. Deal to Expose Work

Sizable deals that bring you into the heart of a client’s business often reveal undiscovered liabilities. This is particularly true during a merger and acquisition disclosure process where many opportunities for follow-up work are discovered.

Unfortunately, as is so often the case, although an opportunity is uncovered, the current deal must close and you are busy with the task at hand. Once the deal closes (or the matter settles), you send the bill and zero in on the next file, forgetting the additional needs of the client.

When files become extremely busy, it takes discipline to note each issue as you come across them. Commit them to memory or find a quick, effective method of capturing this information so that you don’t lose the potential for future work. Ask all the lawyers on the file to do the same. Create a shared file, dictate your findings, or jot them down on the inside of a file; note your concerns in the same location.

At the moment, there is no one who knows the client’s legal matters more intimately than you. Knowing this, your chances of getting this work are high, provided you (or your firm) have the expertise. You will also have placed yourself squarely in the minds of your clients as someone who is committed to their long-term success.


  1. During the course of the matter, note all the legal liabilities and issues that require follow-up attention;
  2. After the current matter has been resolved, hold a debriefing meeting with all your lawyers involved. Review the list of exposed liabilities and encourage comments or additions to the list;
  3. Prepare a report to the client on these outstanding matters, listing your concerns regarding the issues, how you can resolve them and the costs associated with your solutions;
  4. Schedule a meeting with the client, and anyone in the client-organization who will find your report relevant, and present your findings; and
  5. Encourage open dialogue.

If the client doesn’t give the go-ahead, note the reasons why and ask if you should follow-up in three, six or nine months (or at all). Recent work may have depleted their legal services’ budget, but in a few months’ time, they may be ready to tackle the most critical matters.

If you stay in touch, educate, and take initiative with existing clients as well as cross-sell and act on exposed opportunities from deals, you’ll save a lot of time and money that would otherwise be spent chasing new clients.

Susan Van Dyke, the Principal of Van Dyke Marketing & Communications, is a law firm marketing consultant based in Vancouver, B.C.. She can be reached at 604-876-7769 or