The early ‘90s: phones like bricks; a hairstyle like a children’s pop-up book; and legal loves everyone. And they are in hire mode.... Somehow I managed to find my way into a serious London law firm. On the first day of my articles I found myself to be alongside 20 Oxbridge graduates who had a whole set of attributes I thought I could never compete with. So, not surprisingly, I made some assumptions such as...
“I will know how this works for someone like me; I work harder than anybody else and know more law than the rest of them put together, and that’s how I communicate my value.”
And that’s precisely what I set out to try and do. At one point, it was going so well that I was actually able to build up such a huge pile of files on my desk that nobody could see me behind it. Brilliant – people just left me alone to get on with my work without bothering me. I saw myself as a ‘work-doer’, and, funnily enough, so did others around me. As a consequence of this, I was given more work to do. I thought that was what success looked like, yet I suspect those around me saw things differently.
How I started to appreciate the importance of relationships
After a few years of private practice, I decided to give in-house a try. When I got there I “knew” what I had to do.... In transitioning from private practice to in-house, I had managed to shift my attitude towards work and I stayed employed as an in-house lawyer for a number of years.
Around 2004/5, I was lucky enough to be asked to become involved with something called the Addleshaw Goddard Client Development Centre (CDC). This CDC was the first consultancy started by a law firm to help lawyers communicate their value as effectively as possible, and at Downthecorridor we are pleased to continue to work closely with lawyers and other professional advisers today.
What was the difference?
After working in the CDC, I quickly started to notice that professional advisers fell broadly into two categories.
- “SERVICE”: We might call the first category “service”. Service teams see their role as being one of responding to requests from the business to mitigate risk.
- “EXPERIENCE”: On the other side of the spectrum, I saw what we might call “experience” teams. Experience teams are involved at the early stages; are high on the radar of the key decision makers and are seen as an essential part of the business.
The fundamental difference between them is this: Their focus on relationships...
- “Service” teams are not focused on relationships, and so they create relationships with their clients by accident.
Whereas “experience” teams think hard about the experience they want to create for their clients along with how they want their clients to feel. They do this by creating relationships on purpose.
To start with, it has to be a deliberate choice
In my view, all professional advisers have a choice about the kind of relationships they want to build with their clients, and whether they want those relationships to happen by accident or on purpose.
I think lawyers and other professionals that actively engage with this question are likely to experience a very different level of fulfilment.
How Coaching can make a real difference
Recently, I have seen how ‛COACHING’ can make a real added value difference to appreciating what is involved. More often this may include what could be called a ‛Coaching Approach’ as well as formal 1 to 1 sessions, as in the most talked about way of doing coaching.
Helping professionals think about the experience they want to create for their clients can take many forms – itself depending on the circumstances. For those in professional services, the relationship with the client is the value they deliver above the service itself. It's how they differentiate themselves. Good coaching creates unique and enduring relationships. If a professional services person wants to coach their client and develop their own coaching skills, the best way to do it is to get a good coach. Good coaches are coach able.
Developing effective relationships are an accepted ‘Business Skill‘
Likewise, after years of coaching professionals at all levels, I also believe that looking at relationships is a matter of leadership.
By leadership, I simply mean doing what others in the same space haven’t done yet.
The ability to foster and develop effective relationships has long been recognised in the wider business community as an essential part of the personal development of any corporate leader.
If we don’t receive relationship management training during our professional formation, then private practice can be a difficult environment where we simply put relationship development in the ‛just a bit too difficult box’ – especially with the chargeable hour issue lurking at the end of every day.
It does take work, but a focus on relationships can mean a lot more fun.
So, how do you see client relationships in your business?
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