Your clients do not care about what you do. Yet many lawyers I know focus on what they do as they try to develop business.

Your clients care about their industry, their business, and their problems, opportunities, internal changes and external changes.

What does it mean to be “client focused?”

Const Crane

Your focus is on your client and not on you. How can you do that in client conversations? Go visit your client’s place of business and then:

  1. Talk less and listen more
  2. Ask good questions
  3. Do not talk about your experience or expertise or your firm’s experience or expertise unless you are asked
  4. Figure out the strategic, operational and economic issues that your client’s or prospect’s team regularly discuss, including:
    1. Capital: funding for on-going operations, acquisitions & growth
    2. Products/Services: the what, when, where and how of commerce (customers, vendors, markets, distributors, intermediaries, etc.)
    3. Competition: differentiation and how they compete in their market
    4. Distribution: go-to-market strategies (direct, independent distributors, franchising, licensing, retail, wholesale and internet strategies)
    5. Talent: Recruitment, Training and Retention
  5. Small talk-limit it. When you talk about it, make it something they are interested in. That might be business news, sports, current events, their children.

I want to welcome Charlie Miller to my blog. Charlie is a partner in the Patton Boggs Dallas office and is the Deputy Managing Partner of the firm. He is a close friend and great source of ideas on client development. Charlie’s practice involves mergers and acquisitions, structured and project financings, acquisition financings, recapitalizations, restructuring and reorganizations, and other complex business transaction. In these difficult economic times, Charlie has actually thrived. I have asked him to share with you how he is making hay in these difficult times.

Double digit unemployment, massive corporate layoffs, negative GDP, bank failures, depression …. The current state of the economy makes me giddy! Why you may ask? Because out of chaos comes the best opportunities for strengthening relationships with existing clients and acquiring new clients.

A few observations about how many attorneys react to an economic downturn:

  • When clients are not sending them business, they stop calling them.
  • When business slows down, they panic and stop investing their own time and financial resources in business development.
  • When their firm is not doing well, they spend an inordinate amount of time worrying and commiserating with colleagues about how bad things have gotten or they focus on making a lateral move.

In the first quarter of 2009, when many professionals were bemoaning the state of their practice, I hit the road. I visited every significant client that I worked with and had a face to face discussion with them in their offices about their company, business and strategic direction. I did my homework before the meetings—searching for articles about the company, reading their latest SEC filings (if they were public) and talking to trusted sources within the company about what was going on at the company. I listened to what they had to say. And during the meetings, I reinforced for them some of the fundamental principles upon which I have built my practice:

  • We are a “long term investor” in our relationship with you and we will be there for you in good times and difficult times.
  • We want to better understand your business, challenges and strategic focus so that we can be a better partner to you.
  • We want to identify those areas where we can be more efficient in our work.
  • We are willing to invest in the future and in our relationship.
  • We want to be a value-added partner to you and we will focus our efforts on helping you to achieve your strategic goals.

The results: a 30% increase in the business I did with these clients in 2009 versus 2008.

The moral of the story: get out of your office and get on the road. Nothing can replace face time. In difficult economic times, clients’ relationships with their outside counsel are put under a microscope. In-house legal departments are put under extreme pressure to reduce their outside legal spending. This environment creates the best opportunity to solidify existing relationships and to mine new ones. But, you can’t do it from the comfort of your office!

I again have started 2010 the same way I started 2009—on the road. I was in the office one day a week in January and February is shaping up to be more of the same. And I am off to a better year in 2010 than in 2009. Happy hunting.