Posted on May 13, 2020 by J. David Harvey
The business conditions caused by the pandemic raise an important question: how do you maintain relationships and provide value in a contactless environment? In a recent survey of Washington, D.C. area marketing leaders, two areas stood out: client teams and industry-focused efforts. While these leaders expected a huge decrease in certain activities (like events and the number of pitches), they anticipate an increase in client teams and industry-focused activity. In fact, with the unprecedented and volatile market changes, now is a prime time to reinvigorate client teams and industry-focused efforts.
Client teams are a vital way to organize efforts to better serve the best clients of the firm. This is not the same as the group that is currently billing the client. Large firms often use client teams as a way to coordinate efforts across geographies and practices, but there is also a strategic business development use for them. Namely, putting in place the right lawyers to discuss client issues, understand their business needs, and anticipate future needs. That is especially important right now given the wrenching changes affecting so many industries — think retail, travel & entertainment, healthcare. Everyone is faced with an uncertain future and seeking some type of assurance and clarity.
As Dr. Heidi Gardner, faculty at Harvard Law School and an expert on collaboration, and I wrote recently in American Lawyer, GCs are open to counsel but are also overwhelmed by all of the business continuity issues and office reopening issues they are dealing with daily. They are also facing a firehose of COVID-related advice coming into their in-boxes to the point that there is a ground swelling of “enough!” That is why personalized, thoughtful work through the client teams and industry initiatives is more important than ever.
What are the top two activities your client teams can do to match efforts to these extraordinary times?
1. Be laser-focused on the business issues faced by the client — your team should be utilizing the firm’s research capabilities heavily. Effective client teams assign at least one member to regularly curate the information flow on the client. This can be an up-and-coming associate or a young partner, but they need to have enough bandwidth to inform the rest of the team on major develops to the business or industry trends. Teams should be meeting every two weeks at a minimum given how quickly world events are shaking things up. For example, law firms working with automotive giants like Ford and GM have seen them need to retool from manufacturing to producing ventilators and other personal health protective equipment. This is clearly outside of their usual expertise. If your firm has a healthcare or life science practice, this offers an opportunity to help your client navigate these uncharted waters — what regulatory issues do they face? How to they deal with new supply chains? How can they protect themselves in government contracts?
2. Rebalance client team membership. Your firm has likely had the same core members of the client team in place for a long time without much thought to changing it. If you haven’t given a hard look to team membership, now is the time. The relationship partner is still key but the other team members should be decided based on how best to serve the client, and those decisions should be determined by the research highlighted above, and supplemented by the regular client discussions that include such open-ended questions as “what are the most pressing issues you’re dealing with right now?” In pre-pandemic days, these teams could be informed by regular client feedback interviews. The current environment makes sit-down interviews impossible but means shifting to regular client listening that rely on more frequent contact through phone and Zoom calls.
This is not the time to be pushy about large-scale engagements. Budgets are frozen, GCs are under immense pressure, and everyone is dealing with upended personal lives that add to the uncertainty and strain. Therefore, it’s important to be supportive of clients in a way that continues regular touch points, establishes your lawyers as true counselors, and positions your firm well for the eventual recovery.
J. David Harvey is an affiliate Senior Consultant with LawVision LLC.