The competition has never been tougher. Client loyalty is business-critical. So, can you make it rain?

Magazine: FLUX Issue 1; Client: CJBS / LexisNexis

Once upon a time, in a land far away, lawyers did not think about marketing. They did not concern themselves with social media. And they rarely considered the impact of business development. But those days have gone. In 2015, the rainmaker is queen. So what does it take to sell yourself – and your firm – convincingly?

“When I started, our business development campaigns were mainly implemented by our partner group but that was about it,” says Julie Mortimer, marketing and business development director at Mills & Reeve. “But there is such value in our trainees and junior lawyers. They network in a different way and are very savvy about social media. As soon as they have been to an event they will be sending out LinkedIn invites and we do see work being won as a result.”

Katherine Milliken, head of client service at Macfarlanes, has seen rainmakers in action from both sides of the fence, starting her legal career at a magic circle firm before spending 10 years in-house at Inchcape, latterly as general counsel. When she joined Macfarlanes in 2013 as its first head of client service, she brought with her frontline experience of what worked, and what didn’t.

Expertise shows itself by being proactive – not just reactive to instructions. You need to be involved and be interested, if not passionate, about the subject.

Some lawyers would stick too obviously to the training manual when talking to you, she says. “Others would meet up for lunch and there would be an awkward pause at the point they made their pitch before they felt they could then relax and chat. One of the best ways to market yourself is not to be too overtly in ‘sell’ mode but to be committed, proactive and attentive – and deliver what you promise.

Milliken has been focussing on the idea that everyone at Macfarlanes has an important role to play in client service. One project that she has been working on is a series of partner-led, discussion- based workshops covering all aspects of client service delivery, and which have deliberately included not just fee-earners but also secretaries, professional support lawyers and the business services teams.

“It’s about building relationships where there is a good fit, not being a pushy sales person,” says Amanda Grace, head of client development at Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co. “It’s a drive to put the client first and understand what they want.” But while that sounds straightforward, Grace stresses it can be a long game.

“It may be that the potential client is perfectly happy with their existing provider. We are not going to upset that relationship or over-invest in trying to shake the incumbent off. But a good rainmaker will stay in touch with the prospect’s business, so when they are looking to review their panel or want a fresh pair of eyes, we are front of mind. That is real rainmaker territory and the stuff on which we build solid client bases.”

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.”

Social has real power

“At an individual level, social media – if used correctly – can be your most powerful marketing tool,” says Wheeler, whose firm’s Supporting Innovation campaign, involving dozens of partners in multiple countries was awarded Most Innovative Use of Social Media at this year’s MPF Awards for Management Excellence. “Our social media channels are the biggest drivers of traffic towards our website, and a core part of the firm’s social media strategy is encouraging lawyers to be active with their personal profiles on these platforms,” she says.

Keeping LinkedIn and Twitter feeds and blogs updated alongside a busy day job means a lot of plate spinning and there is a risk of getting it wrong, acknowledges Mortimer. Mills & Reeve has a social media policy that everyone is expected to read, “and then we police it,” she says. “We constantly monitor any mention of the firm and are very clear about how our staff should use Facebook, for instance, which we don’t use as a business tool. But I wouldn’t want to be without LinkedIn or Twitter – that is what our clients are using and we have to reflect that.”

Perhaps that is the key: whatever the tool, rainmakers put their clients at the centre of strategy. As Milliken says: “The big gestures are important but you also have to make sure you don’t forget the human touch.”