How Client Focus Can Go So Wrong

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The quest for the best solution can make even the most savvy, thoughtful professional tone deaf.

Clients think of client focus as you working towards meeting their targeted objective, which may or may not be the perfect solution. 70% of lawyers define client focus as coming up with the best possible solution. And while clients can appreciate this, if the solution doesn’t meet their specific needs, it is a failure.

You can argue both clients and their lawyers are essentially saying, “do what’s best,” but the distinction is in who gets to decide what’s best. The search for the perfect answer often drowns out a client’s targeted outcome. You can see this clearly in the true story below:

World Law enjoyed a strong relationship with long-term client, Sweet Tech Corp, where billings averaged just over $20 million annually. The senior partner at World Law, Lou, was preparing to retire. As the primary contact with Sweet Tech, he openly shared his retirement plans with Sweet Tech’s CEO, Jason. To ease the transition and ensure work was not interrupted, Jason requested a succession and transition plan from World Law.

World Law conducted an exhaustive internal search. Lou, the retiring partner, developed a job specification sheet including technical skills, interpersonal aspects, personal chemistry, and communication style. The firm set up a committee to vet the potential candidates. After a thorough matching of skills and assessment of availability, World Law decided upon Gus as the logical successor to Lou. Lou immediately began incorporating Gus into the relationship—training him on all the processes, bringing him to client meetings, and sharing all the nuances of Sweet Tech one builds from a long-time relationship.

Within the year, Lou retired and Gus took the reins.

6 months later, Jason at Sweet Tech called the managing partner of World Law. Jason was not happy with Gus. Jason acknowledged Gus’s technical prowess, but there were numerous chemistry and personality issues eroding the previously strong relationship. Jason expressed respect for Gus and the value World Law brought, but requested a new partner be assigned to manage Sweet Tech’s account.

World Law responded quickly. The managing partner went to meet with Sweet Tech to demonstrate concern and understand Jason’s every concern and suggestion. World Law initiated a new search.

After several weeks of new partner analysis, the firm reached what it thought was an insightful and telling observation—Gus was in fact the right partner for Jason and Sweet Tech Corp. Every piece of objective evidence—from his location, expertise, past experience, and even understanding of Sweet Tech’s operations—supported Gus remaining as partner.

World Law’s managing partner, Barbara, took Jason to an outstanding lunch—wonderful food, great view, and the restaurant’s well-known power table. Barbara thanked Jason for being such a long-time client and shared the firm’s view on how important Sweet Tech is to World Law. Jason was feeling reassured and sensed he would soon be enjoying a relationship with a new partner. At one point, Jason thought he would be invited in to interview potential partners.

But suddenly, Jason felt empty. He was stunned. World Law was recommending Gus remain as the partner in charge of the relationship. Barbara explained how Gus met every criterion and was clearly up to the task. In World Law’s opinion, Gus was the best partner for Sweet Tech Corp.

Jason politely shared his disbelief and suggested the firm reassess the assignment. Barbara reiterated she was acting in best interest of Sweet Tech Corp.

Jason thanked Barbara for her time and effort. He went back to his office to develop a transition plan to work with one of the 8 other law firms on his roster.

Jason’s targeted outcome was a new relationship partner. This 100-year-old, 1,000-lawyer firm was so focused on the perfect solution they missed the core issue—Jason and his team couldn’t work with Gus.

But maybe the real lesson is different—when a mega client likes your firm enough to tell you they want a new relationship partner—their goal is clear and your only answer is an unequivocal yes.

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This excerpt is just a snippet from my best-selling book Clientelligence: How Superior Client Relationships Fuel Growth and Profits. Already in use at over 150 law firms, the 17 activities within Clientelligence are proven drivers of superior client relationships. Based on 14,000 in-depth interviews with clients, this consistent and systematic approach to developing superior client service skills gives you unparalleled access to your clients' most complex—and premium-rate—work.

I hope you’ll take a moment to learn more about how you can use these activities to create and maintain superior client relationships of your own while fueling growth and profits—or order your copy—here.

MBR