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Client Loyalty Post #20: Are you truly collaborating or just being collegial?

07.07.21 | Susan Duncan

This is the twentieth in our bi-weekly series of posts that provide excerpts and tips from our recently published book, Building Enduring Client Loyalty: A Guide for Lawyers and Their Firms. Click here to save 15%. Enter code ‘AUTHBEC’ at the checkout.

Law firms are often described as a collection of sole practitioners practicing law under the same roof. This description is fairly accurate in law firms in which partners compete with each other for origination credit and want to maintain control of work, client relationships and hoard billable hours. Fortunately, many firms now recognize that collaboration and multi-disciplinary teams create better solutions for clients, bring diversity of thought into problem-solving, enhance workforce engagement and commitment, and lead to greater profitability and stickier client relationships. Even if lawyers are more comfortable working alone, we know that clients prefer lawyers that work well in the sand box with them and with the other law firms they use so becoming more collaborative will be a critical skill for lawyers to learn.

Collaboration is Good for Clients

Collaboration provides multiple benefits to clients. With the level of complexity of practice specialties and the business problems clients have, it is rare that one lawyer or even a team in one practice group will be able to holistically address a client’s business problems.

There are several opportunities for law firms to collaborate on a client’s behalf:

  • Within the firm, between partners in different practice groups and/or different offices and countries
  • Within the firm, between lawyer teams and other professionals with experience in pricing, project management, process, and technology
  • Between the law firm and their clients’ in-house lawyers and business teams.
  • Between the lawyers and other service providers that serve the client, e.g., management and subject matter consultants, vendors, accountants and bankers

Heidi Gardner, PhD, a Distinguished Fellow at Harvard Law School’s Center on the Legal Profession and Faculty Chair of Harvard Law School’s Accelerated Leadership Program and Smart Collaboration Masterclass has conducted extensive research in the area of collaboration in professional service firms. In her book, Smart Collaboration: How Professionals and Their Firms Succeed by Breaking Down Silos, she suggests that at the higher end of legal advice and transactions, clients benefit from and appreciate a more collaborative approach to the legal advice and representation they receive.

Dr. Gardner summarizes ten reasons clients value a team approach:

  1. Access to firm’s best knowledge and experts
  2. Deeper understanding of their own business
  3. Insights from across the sector
  4. Innovation
  5. Global perspective
  6. Collaborative capacity
  7. Consistency
  8. Simplicity in the “vendor base”
  9. Efficiency and economy
  10. Relationships and respect

Collaboration Leads to Higher Profits and Better Served, More Loyal Clients

Dr. Gardner’s research also confirms that clients that are served by multiple partners are more loyal and apt to stay with that firm even if the partner leaves the firm: 72% of single-partner clients would seek another provider if the relationship partner left the firm but 90% of multiple partner clients would remain loyal to the existing firm even if relationship partner left.

Dr. Gardner acknowledges that this type of holistic approach is not as practical or affordable for routine legal work but is very valuable for more complex clients and legal problems and allows partners to further develop their roles as strategic and trusted advisers. Collaboration still brings additional value even to the more routine work as it helps drive coordinated project management and efficiency.

RainMaking Oasis provides consulting and coaching services to law firms and lawyers in the areas of client loyalty and development, business development and growth strategy, collaboration and innovation and succession planning. Please contact Susan Duncan at [email protected].