Long-term client relationships, both through long-term matters and repeat matters with the same client, are an excellent way for associate attorneys to develop their practice skills and professional profile. Benefits of long-term client relationships include relationship development and efficiency. These benefits, however, are not automatic, and there are a number of practice tips that attorneys may wish to consider to get the most out of long-term client relationships.
Long-term client assignments offer an opportunity to develop professional connections both with clients and in the firm.
Client relationships: Long-term client relationships present a unique opportunity to get to know the members of the client team, from understanding their professional needs, preferences and internal team dynamics to learning about their hobbies and background. Understanding client needs, preferences and dynamics can be extremely useful in navigating a project. For example, you can facilitate prompt finalization of deliverables by reaching out directly to the client team member who has the authority to get it done, whether the task is obtaining the signature of a senior executive, signing off on a court or regulatory filing, making a difficult substantive judgment call or providing due diligence or document review items. You can also avoid embarrassment or difficulty for the client by having a keen understanding of the internal dynamics at play—sometimes, it is not appropriate to copy the entire team on an email or mention an upcoming project to someone who might not yet be in-the-know, and counsel with a strong understanding of the client team can easily avoid these errors.
The benefits of getting to know your clients, however, are not strictly procedural. Learning about your clients makes for a more rewarding relationship over time, and makes working together more pleasant for everyone. Plus, these personal connections may lead to better professional outcomes: a study found that 94% of business students successfully completed negotiations when they’d taken the time to get to know their counterparties, versus only 71% of students who did not. While you may not frequently find yourself negotiating against your clients, getting to know them can help you be more attuned to their needs and find a solution that works for all.
Firm relationships: Long-term client projects also offer a unique opportunity to develop relationships within the firm, both with partners and with more junior members of the firm team that regularly works with the client. Continuous work with the same partners (and other senior lawyers) opens the door for a mentorship both due to the constant contact and because they will
likely be motivated to aid your professional development so that you may continue to deliver excellent work to the client. Working with the same team over time also allows you to showcase project management skills and exercise substantive decision making, particularly as the senior lawyers gain trust in your work over time.
The long-term nature of the work also puts you in a good position to provide mentorship to more junior team members. This can be particularly effective because you are well-positioned to assess how much responsibility junior team members can handle and to help them take on more responsibility over time in a thoughtful fashion. Established teams provide an excellent opportunity for junior lawyers to try out new skills with the guidance of an invested mentor.
Serving the same client over time can foster efficiency from a variety of angles, including historical knowledge, trust in your guidance and awareness of client working patterns.
Historical knowledge: When you already know the backstory, this can save a great deal of time. A deep knowledge of ongoing (and reoccurring) diligence matters can lead to efficiency when preparing clients for disclosure and diligence expectations. Familiarity with past litigation can aid in quickly developing an advantageous strategy in a similar case. Understanding why a document is drafted in a particular, and perhaps unique, way can facilitate prompt drafting of documentation in repeated and similar transactions. Regardless of your area of practice, historical knowledge of client matters is indispensable.
Client trust: When your client knows that you have repeatedly provided skilled advocacy, they are more likely to trust the advice you are giving them now. While it is always important to properly address client questions and concerns, it can lead to more efficient resolution of issues when clients feels confident that you have their best interests at heart and know what you are talking about.
Working patterns: When you work with the same client regularly, you come to understand their working patters. This means that you can provide work product in an efficient manner to facilitate client review. For example, you may learn that a client prefers to receive all documents in a single packet rather than in phases or that they like to receive issues lists formatted in a specific way.
To maximize these benefits, there are a number of practice tips that you may wish to consider.
Predict client needs: One way to maximize the value that you provide to the client is to predict client needs before they arise. For example, if you assist the client with scheduled or recurring documentation or reports, it is a good idea to add those due dates to your calendar and reach out to the client to see if they need help getting started long in advance of the deadline. This not only helps the client to stay organized, but shows that you are focused on their ongoing needs.
Focus on substantive knowledge: The same issues in different clothing will likely arise repeatedly in the long run. Taking the time to understand substantive issues in the first instance will both save you time when you next encounter a similar issue and will help develop confidence in your substantive knowledge when you are able to quickly look to past experience to address the issue.
Stay up to date on client news: Set news alerts for your long-term clients and read this news on a daily basis. Staying informed is helpful for flagging material information for client reporting and diligence, may be helpful when determining how to frame an argument, and it also has the added benefit for providing a way to show your clients that you are educated regarding their ongoing situation. Plus, sometimes client news may provide insight into deals or disputes to come and help you to better prepare.
Get to know the client: Take time to get to know your client, particularly your peers at the client. Beyond the obvious benefits of creating a more collegial working environment, peers will grow into their careers alongside you, and can be excellent connections for years to come.
Ask questions: Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the attorneys on your team who have been working with the client for a long time, particularly if something doesn’t make sense to you or is done differently than what you have seen for other clients. Institutional knowledge regarding how and why things are done is extremely valuable, and someday you will be the font of institutional knowledge.
Working with long-term clients can provide a number of benefits, both for the client and for attorney development. Associate attorneys should advocate for long-term roles on client teams, and senior attorneys should consider the benefits when making staffing decisions.
See Dorie Clark, Keeping your Clients Loyal, From Wherever You Are, Harvard Business Review (Oct. 5, 2011), available at: https://hbr.org/2011/10/keeping-your-clients-loyal-fro?registration=success
Acerca de la autora:
Laura Daugherty is an associate at Cleary Gottlieb. Her practice focuses on corporate and financial transactions. She concentrates on cross-border transactions, principally in Latin America. Prior to joining Cleary Gottlieb, Laura was a Fulbright-García Robles Binational Business Fellow in Mexico City.
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