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Looking back over a career as a City lawyer, latterly as a partner of a Magic Circle law firm for many years with responsibility for looking after a number of very large international clients, what did I learn in relation to client service?

Many lawyers have good intentions with regard to client service but prefer not to actively develop the necessary skills. Naturally, we intend Client service, while an enjoyable challenge, is much more fraught with difficulties than the legal element. Why is this?

The cost issue

One hears a lot about how cost is not really so important provided the client feels it is getting value for money – a dangerous assumption, in my experience.

Often my team went above and beyond and deliver the desired outcome but nevertheless the discount request at the end of the transaction hit hard.

How to avoid this disappointment?

Manage fee expectations upfront in an open and realistic manner. Lowballing and ending up with a fight over fees is never a good basis for a long-term relationship.

Remember that the estimated fee number will be the number entered into the Finance Director’s budget – they may well be less sympathetic than, say, your day-to-day in-house legal contact when the bill eventually arrives and exceeds the original estimate.

The Managing Director will perhaps be even less sympathetic as he may well be one more step away from the core of the relationship. Regular updating on fees and revision of estimates as the matter

The service issue

This is really about exceeding the client’s expectations.

– Certain things are an absolute must: calls and emails must always be answered promptly, even if simply to provide an acknowledgement and explain the next steps.

– Advice should be concise and, where practicable, with a summary in a form that can easily be forwarded internally within the client’s organisation.

– Any hint of a concern about a member of the team must be addressed openly and resolved to the clear satisfaction of the client (just like those critical issues of fees and conflicts).

– Know your client well. Understand how its internal team operates, who the decision-makers are and what their expectations are.

– Communicate regularly with the client throughout the course of the matter to check whether all goes well from the client’s perspective. Do this in good listening mode!

– Demonstrate commitment to the client’s cause at all times – this is perhaps obvious but so important to the overall strength of the client relationship that might well extend to other areas of your firm.

I believe that the overarching attribute of good client service is to take the burden off the shoulders of the client. Do everything you possibly

If the client has a problem, it is for you to solve it. If the client has a transaction, it is looking to you to carry the burden of ensuring its successful execution from a legal perspective.

No doubt problems will arise along the way that require input from the client. And the key is – always offer solutions at the same time as raising problems with the client – perhaps a number of options with likely consequences in order to assist the client’s decision-making.

The “extra something’

The element that makes the client feel you have exceeded expectations and will help distinguish you from your competitors. I suggest:

– specialist skills suitably employed to earn the client that key advantage;

– the “going the extra mile”: we all know about sleepless nights but sometimes the inevitable burning of the candle at both ends (but please don’t burn yourself out!) can shift the dial on the issue of dedication to the client’s cause;

– flawless communication: no unexpected hiccups, no hidden problems and no surprises on fees; and If the above can be appropriately addressed, this can lead to the tremendous satisfaction of a great client relationship.

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