Survey Says: Increase Intimacy, Not Fees

It isn’t news to anyone that we’re in a tough and uncertain economy. Nor is it news that business is slow. The real question is, what can lawyers do today to weather this economy? According to a Special Client Advisory released by Hildebrandt and summarized in yesterday’s AmLaw Daily, the answer is to develop client relationships. The Advisory concluded that the substantial growth in law firm business over the last six years (growth that Hildebrandt called unprecedented) is due primarily to 6-8% annual fee increases. So now what? From the AmLaw Daily article:

Over the next 45 days, 10 percent of firms will announce rate increases, and 10 percent will announce no change. The other 80 percent will wait and see. Clients will aggressively push back on the increases, and many might be rolled back, either explicitly or via discounting. Those 80 percent who’ll be watching from the sidelines will take their cue from the no-changers, leaving those making increases adrift on a fast-melting ice floe. Even if they roll back, those increasing rates will have sent a clear message that they are out of touch with client reality in a way that will preclude any efforts to improve intimacy….

Seeking to improve client intimacy is both safer and easier than sticking to a diet of price increases. Until the last decade or two, any business school discussion of customer intimacy would have started with law firm business practices. Web 2.0 technologies make intimacy easier, but why not just start by inviting retired partners, especially the name partners who built the firm in the first place, to talk about how they did it ‘back in the day’? Reflecting on best practices, requiring every partner to talk to their top ten clients, sending senior management on the road to meet with clients and to discuss how to work together better is all pretty basic stuff.

In other words, talk with your clients. Get to know them as individuals. Go to their offices, ask what their concerns are, and offer to help where appropriate. Building relationships doesn’t have to be difficult, and when approached authentically (in other words, not by faking sincerity), you will be on the road to becoming a trusted advisor.

Julie A. Fleming, J.D., A.C.C. provides business and executive coaching with an emphasis on business development, leadership development, time mastery and organization, and work/life integration. Julie holds a coaching certificate from the Georgetown Leadership Coaching program and holds the Associate Certified Coach (ACC) credential from the International Coach Federation. She is certified to administer the DISC(r) assessment, the Leadership Circle Profile 360, and the Leadership Culture Survey.