Star Lawyers — those nominated by clients as stand-out attorneys in terms of their performance and the service they provide — deliver greater value to clients through excellent business savvy, according to the recently released Acritas Stellar Performance: A Survey of Stand-out Talent Report 2020.
So, what exactly does business savvy mean? And how does it set these stand-out Lawyers apart from their peers?
In a sense, business savvy is a catch-all category for lawyers who described their service delivery using terms like commercial, business-minded, strategic, and, most importantly, understand their clients’ business operations. Of the stand-out Lawyers surveyed, 61% identified business savvy as a way they delivered value to their clients, nearly doubling the next most popular responses. Pricing, for example, was cited by only 33% of respondents.
And therein lies an important takeaway. Clients are certainly concerned about price; but the lawyers they identify as being standouts have not necessarily been putting pricing at the forefront of their considerations when it comes to delivering quality service. Understanding the client and their needs is by far the bigger focus for these stellar performers.
You can access a summary of the release, Acritas’ Stellar Performance: A Survey of Stand-out Talent Report 2020 here.
This is backed up by other stakeholders in the legal industry as well. At a time when all lawyers are struggling to find their footing in what is being described as the New Normal, those who focus primarily on the needs of their clients’ businesses may be in a better position to hold onto a larger share of their pre-pandemic book of business. “Lawyers who really understand their clients and their clients’ businesses, the ones who can come forward as a partner and offer proactive solutions, those are the lawyers who are staying really busy right now,” said Toby Brown, Chief Practice Management Officer at Perkins Coie and a board member of the Legal Value Network.
So how can lawyers develop this kind of deep expertise in their clients’ business and make sure those clients recognize it?
First, as the Stellar Performers report points out, “Personal relationships have come back to the forefront, as clients invite lawyers, virtually, into their homes, leverage their systems and technology, and lean on these trusted advisors to help them do their job as effectively as possible.” Put another way, the relationship you have personally with your client today matters as much or more than it ever has.
Dan Haley, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for Sprinklr, said as much when he spoke about how impressed he was with his outside counsel who started conversations by inquiring about how he’s doing in these strange times rather than just jumping to the legal issues. These lawyers made it clear to Haley that they were focused on how they served their clients more than the how much focus that accompanies a fixation on the number of hours billed.
Knowing your clients starts with knowing their personality and how to engage them as human beings in a way that makes them feel important, appreciated, and valued. If you value them, they will value you.
Second, develop a deep level of demonstrable expertise on your clients’ sectors or industries. This involves more than just a large listing of the industries served by your firm on your website. Rather, it starts with a strategic focus by firm leadership which supports developing the necessary infrastructure within the firm to appropriately identify which sectors your clients fit into, collaboratively compile the firm’s institutional knowledge of those sectors, and proactively share crucial sector insight and knowledge with those clients.
And third, bring an extra level of attention to your key clients by implementing an effective strategic accounts program. The multiple steps involved in implementing a strategic account program are not simple or quick. But the investment will manifest a hefty return if done correctly, as clients will have a much more tangible sense of the level of your firm’s business savvy and the value that brings to the table. As a good first step to developing your strategic account strategy, you should develop a plan that’s specific to each client and is focused on that client’s specific goals.
Understanding those goals and directing your firm’s plan for that client around them is pretty much the definition of a business-minded, strategic understanding of the client’s business — and the very core of business savvy.