7 simple steps to growing your relationships with your most important law firms

Client development used to be the preserve of the corporate world but increasingly it is assuming its rightful place as one of the core components of a professional service firm’s business development plan.  Law and accountancy firms have finally realised that selling more to someone who already likes/trusts/respects your brand is a much easier (and more cost-effective) prospect than constantly trying to win brand new clients.

However, despite making huge steps forward in recent years (backed up by the strong and resilient relationships fostered and maintained by their clerks) barristers chambers still have some way to go when it comes to really embracing a client development culture.  Many still seem content to rely on the existing ties between certain barristers and certain solicitors and the belief that simply doing a good job will guarantee repeat purchase.

Now, I’m certainly not going to downplay the importance of doing a good job (it’s definitely the number one priority – no ifs/no buts!) or the crucial role client satisfaction plays in repeat purchase.  My challenge would be if that solicitor is impressed with your work and your way of working suits them, how much more work you and your fellow members could be generating from their team and/or other departments in the firm?

The good news is you can take advantage of that potential simply by adopting this simple 7 step process.

  1. Know who your most important clients are

You probably have a pretty good feel as to which solicitors generate the highest and most frequent fee notes over the course of a year.  However, some can easily slip between the cracks so always make sure you have an up to date summary of which solicitors and which firms contribute most to your practice. 

A simple 80/20 analysis will soon highlight which 20% of your clients make up 80% of your revenue and, by extension, the 20% of your clients that 80% of your business development efforts should be focused on.

It’s also important to note that financials aren’t the only yardstick against which to measure your clients when identifying targets.  You should also be looking at:


  • Opportunity: Which new firms have some to you over the last year who should, because of their specialisms and the type of clients they have, be doing more work with you?  Which of your solicitors have much larger teams around them that you could tap into with the minimum of effort?


  • Strategy: Which firms do you share specialisms or particular niches with?  Similarly which have teams operating in legal areas you have targeted to grow?


  1. Know about your most important clients


Once you have identified your key clients, you need to find out about their structure, the size of their teams, their personnel and their leading practice areas so that you can start to identify who you need to get in front of and why.

This may look like an onerous task but it’s one that can easily be outsourced to your clerks, marketing team or to an experienced external resource.  It is however a task that will be crucial the success of your client development work because it will give you some much-needed focus and direction in terms of who to contact with what message which will save you a lot of time, effort and probably budget in the long run.

It will also help you see the size of the opportunity each firm presents in terms of how many other colleagues you could be introduced to, whether there are more offices to be introduced to and whether there are other teams within the firm who could be using other barristers within chambers who specialise in these additional practice areas. 

To aid this part of the process – and to find out more about exactly what those clients want from you in terms of added value, delivery, fee processes and client service – many of the chambers we work with are now commissioning us to deliver client service review programmes where we interview their main instructing solicitors.  This helps us not only identify what it is that those clients really value (so that chambers can do more of it to cement that relationship) but also concrete follow up steps – requested by the client – those clerks or barristers closest to the client can use to kick-start a more formal client development programme.

  1. Have a plan

Once you know which clients you want to focus on and what opportunities each offer, you will need a plan.

Again this isn’t about creating an overly involved 6 inch thick document that will just take up valuable time before sitting in a drawer gathering dust.  It’s about having a simple timeline of what you want to do and when with each of the firm’s you would like to develop and who from chambers will be involved with each initiative. 

We have always found the closer your plan is to a single page, the more successful it will be.  In fact, we have recently designed a template that is simply a page divided into four (with each box representing a quarter of the year) in which you can scribble the name of the firm you’ll see and the type of contact you’ll have in that quarter.  These really do take minutes to complete and are very simple to follow.

  1. Have a target

It’s an age-old cliché but what is measured really does get done.  Once you have your plan, have actual targets to work to so you can make sure you are making the progress you want to.

In the first year, these should be performance-based targets rather than financial ones as new work from new solicitors within the firms you’ve targeted is not likely to be immediate.

Instead set yourself achievable goals for each firm.  Task yourself with hosting one training event with each, to inviting them to play pool/table tennis/darts and eat pizza with your wider team and theirs, make sure the people at each firm that you want to get to know are invited to your Christmas drinks as well as the people you already know.

This ability to alternate formal interaction with more social events will be crucial to your success.  The formal events (training, seminars, conferences, round tables) will allow you to underline your technical legal skills and understanding of the relevant legal issues.  The social gives you the chance to show the person behind the wig and gown and make a more personal connection. 

This is the point where I am usually challenged with “but the only thing that matters is whether I’m a good lawyer”.  It’s the most important factor of course but there are a lot of barristers in a lot of chambers who do exactly what you do so you will increase the odds of instruction if you can answer the questions “can they do the work?” and “can I work with them?” rather than just “can they do the work?”

  1. Implement your plan

This will be by far the shortest explanation of any of the steps.  It may be common sense but if those involved aren’t committed to each development plan and find reasons not to complete their individual actions, all of the time and effort you have invested will be wasted.

The most direct route to success with client development (and in fact any business development or marketing project) is to take a leaf out of Nike’s book and just do it!

  1. Be prepared to add value

The pivotal component of any client development strategy is ensuring you add value to the relationships you have targeted. 

You need to uncover what it is that each client really values and that may be training, it may be introductions to other experts in your field, it may be simply that they know you’re at the other end of the phone when they need to ask you a quick question.  However, you’ll never know until you sit down with them and ask them and never make assumptions because those assumptions will either be incorrect or there or thereabout but missing the crucial bit.

If you get this part of the process right, you are instantly going to position yourself and your chambers ahead of your competition.  You will be recognised as someone who is interested in finding out what you need to do to improve the service you offer which will create its own positive PR bump and that bump will only increase when you’re seen to act on what you’ve been told.     

Again independent client service reviews or interviews with your CEO or senior clerks will eke out some of this information but it is also something you can either chat about when you meet your instructing solicitors in a more social environment.  And it’s not a case of “tell me why I’m good”, you need to be more subtle and ask questions like “what else could chambers be doing for you?”, “is there anything else we could be doing to help you bring your team on?” or “is there anything we could change about the way we work that would make your life easier?”

  1. Measure progress

As I said a few paragraphs ago, what gets measured gets done so try and set up a quarterly review with your clerks, marketing people and anyone else involved in delivering your client development plans.  

The purpose of the meeting is to confirm you have done what you’d planned for the previous quarter and set out what you will be doing during the next quarter.  It needn’t take too long (in fact the shorter and more focused the better they tend to run) but it does maintain the discipline required to keep things moving.

And if it only acts as a last minute reminder that you needed to set up that Q&A session, lunch or coffee 24 hours beforehand, you can set up that Q&A, lunch of coffee and report back faithfully that you have completed your actions for the quarter!

Size 10½ Boots are helping a growing number of chambers improve the way they approach client development by supporting the research (via client listening), planning and implementation phases.  You can find out more by emailing douglas@tenandahalf.co.uk.


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