Expertise is proactive
Grace’s personal mantra is to be in direct touch with clients every week. She puts ideas on service delivery in front of a client panel and has developed an in-house lawyer network called ThinkHouse. The network includes a range of practical services and resources with the promise “you name it and we’ll cover it”.
A recent session run in London and Birmingham, for instance, picked up on the 2014 report Transforming Government’s Contract Management, where the National Audit Office reported that a high proportion of contract management was weak with, in some cases, a material risk of overbilling. It gave public service providers and commissioners an overview of the key phases of the contract lifecycle, identified practical steps and contractual steps to minimise risks. “Any session we run is based on what clients tell us they want to hear about, and we do video snippets for those who cannot attend,” Grace explains.
Joanne Wheeler, a partner at Bird & Bird and one of the leading practitioners in the cutting- edge field of satellite law, says that demonstrating your interest and understanding of your client and their sector is key. “Expertise shows itself by being proactive – not just reactive to instructions. One needs to be involved and be interested, if not passionate, about the subject,” she says. “As an industry develops, and the range of applications begins to be understood, it is important to understand the implications, the business potential, and the laws and regulations which may be relevant. This can be a wide remit. One needs to be at industry and regulators’ meetings and workshops – be ‘within the tent’.”
Jo Witham, head of client relationship management at Olswang, agrees, and says presenting your firm positively is all about finding ways to stand in your clients’ shoes. One of her first projects after joining Olswang three years ago (from Clifford Chance, where she was global head of client focus) was to talk to general counsel about what they wanted from the firm. She then used that feedback to craft a client relationship campaign, which she branded Instinctive Understanding.It is a “toolkit” of relationship investment, she explains, which provides strategy development, personal networks and training. A year on, she has trained 80 per cent of Olswang’s partners in how they can use the kit when they pitch for new work and deepen their relationships with existing clients. Encouraged by the positive feedback from the initial roll-out to 20 per cent of the firm’s key clients, the next stage is to offer it to more clients.
“We are doing this for two reasons,” she says. “We want clients to view us as insightful, innovative and influential. But it is also absolutely on message with what clients need and goes beyond traditional law firm offerings by helping our clients become business leaders.”