Traditionally, the relationship between a law firm and the client has almost exclusively involved an individual attorney: each attorney owned the book of business and could, if departing your firm, take clients with him or her. Now, you can benefit from intelligent workflows and smart technologies that optimize your legal practices — helping you to retain clients through change.
In most businesses, it is simply not that easy to have your clients transfer with you upon departure. Individual relationships can certainly influence a transfer of client. However, the strength of the company often outweighs the influence of the individual.
As legal business becomes more competitive, firms are trying to change the impulse for attorneys to take clients with them upon departure. They have to. As the number of lateral hires continues at a record pace, the movement of client business has become a threat to legal firms’ earnings. According to an ALM Legal Intelligence Survey1, 96% of law firms plan to laterally hire attorneys as a strategy to grow their business. Established firms are losing major clients at a higher rate than in the past. According to BTI Consulting2, 60% of large clients have replaced one of their two primary outside counsel, the highest turnover rate in seven years. And, 59% of new primary firms are from outside the Am Law 50. Hence, it’s safe to assume at least some replacement firms are established when an attorney leaves a large firm to start their own practice or work with another law firm, bringing their book of business with them.
Educate your clients about all of your firm’s practice areas. You may be handling employment issues, such as sexual harassment suits, for a software company. But who handles their intellectual property business? Are they even aware of your IP practice? With corporations reducing and consolidating their legal spend, not to mention their recent willingness to switch outside counsel, your client may be eager to move more business to your firm. But that won’t happen unless they are informed about all of your expertise.
Remind clients of all you’ve done for them. If you sense that a client may leave with a departing attorney, ask to meet with the client first. Use that meeting to review the work you’ve done for the client, reminding them of the breadth and depth of your firm. Review not only the matters, but list all of the staff — not just attorneys but the litigation support staff, administrative support and records managers — your firm uses to support their business.
It’s important to focus on the long term view. Most of the suggestions above require a firm to rethink the way they handle clients, which can be difficult for a firm with a longstanding culture and way of conducting business.