Increasingly, technical legal expertise is not enough for law firms to remain competitive, and to differentiate themselves from other firms providing the same or similar services.
At the Queensland Law Society Symposium 2017: Framing the Future, Keith Dugdale, Managing Director of The Business of Trust, spoke about the value that clients are now demanding of lawyers and law firms in his presentation, ‘Beyond technical legal competence: what value the client of the future will want from you’.
Add technical expertise to a wider network of skills
According to Dugdale, technical legal expertise is not enough to maintain long-lasting and fruitful relationships with the leaders in a client business.
Increasingly, businesses and firms are focusing on bringing together various skills to build and leverage relationships with the executive level of an organisation.
Firms that remain focused on relationships based on technical expertise may find themselves in a dangerous position, as legal services become cheaper and more freely available.
Build relationships on trust
Client relationships should be based on trust, as described by David Maister et al in the “Trust Equation”:
|Trust =||Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy|
|Credibility = being a good lawyer.|
Reliability = following through.
Intimacy = genuinely caring about the person you are dealing with.
Self-orientation = where your attention is focused (on yourself, or on the person you are dealing with).
Lawyers are generally assumed to be credible and reliable. To stand out from the crowd, lawyers should work more on intimacy, and on lowering their self-orientation.
Lawyers need to show clients that they understand and care about their needs and wants, and that they are focused on helping them to succeed – whether this involves providing paid legal services, or helping the client to find a suitable alternative service provider.
Shifting existing relationships away from the technical
It is possible (although perhaps difficult depending on the history) to shift existing client relationships away from a focus on technical legal expertise.
Dugdale recommends first choosing a client, and identifying the individual person, their role, their organisation, and their industry. The lawyer should then find out what is important to the client politically, economically, socially and technologically in relation to each of those factors.
The lawyer should work on giving the client value at each one of those levels, with the focus on helping the client to succeed. Although this may involve referring the client elsewhere at times, it will foster a strong relationship of trust with the client which is more likely to generate work in the future.
Engaging with a new client in the age of online services and AI
Relationships with new clients can kick off by showing them that their new lawyer cares, and that they will bring them value to help them succeed.
At the first client meeting, lawyers should find out the client’s business and organisational strategies, and the personal career goals of the person they are meeting with, for the next three years.
The focus at the meeting should be on outcomes (rather than facts or challenges), allowing the lawyer to identify what the client wants to achieve, and how they can help them to do this.
Differentiate your firm from the competition of the future is a lasting message from the presentation. Lawyers need to move beyond focusing on technical legal expertise to build the relationships with business leaders and differentiate themselves from other firms and service providers.