The Gift of Better Client Relations

Published in ALA Legal Management, November/December 2011

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Marketing to existing clients before looking for new ones is the best strategy for any firm. It is cost-effective (the clients are already in hand and don't have to be identified and wooed) and offers great potential for leverage (by offering additional legal services to the clients, and securing referrals for new clients from them). But it is equally important to emphasize that existing client relationships require work and planning if they are to produce additional marketing benefits. And the year-end holiday season is the best time for bringing these business development efforts to fruition.

This sadly is contrary to the practice at most law firms. Too often year-end is viewed as the time for partners to put on a big push for clients to pay as much as possible on bills that have been left outstanding for months - and sometimes just to pay anything at all. Clients, of course know the routine and they agree to pay on their large bills in order to wangle discounts because they know the remuneration system for partners is based upon how much has been collected by the end of the year. Any bills collected in January do not count for another 11 months, so the leverage is all with the client. Some clients attempt to get a year-end discount on their lawyers' fees for every matter. Worse is when law firms themselves propose the discount. Often on accounts for repeat clients with significant billings, the firm in its year-end push to collect gees will offer some type of discount to get money in hand.

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