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When’s the last time you wished a client happy birthday? Sent a personal congratulatory letter? Often overlooked or low on the priority list, effective client communication extends far beyond promptly returned phone calls and e-mails, plus an engraved card at holiday time. Indeed, communicating with clients and client prospects is the single most important tool for growing a successful practice. Of course, it’s no substitute for delivering solid work product. But effective communication can make all the difference when it comes to landing a new client, holding on to an existing one, or expanding the amount and kind of work you’re called upon to do. People do business with people they trust, and trust comes through relationship development. That’s where communication comes in. It’s not a one-size-fits-all undertaking. Your communication process should be individualized based on client preferences. For example, your Internet-savvy clients may be interested in periodic e-mail updates, while “old school” clients may require in-person meetings, and other clients might prefer minimal contact but appreciate being mailed articles from time to time. Make the most of every opportunity. If you are quoted in a newspaper or scheduled to speak at a conference, let your clients know about it — provided, of course, that the topic is one of interest to them. Don’t send clients articles or invite them to a conference simply to let them know you are featured. Nor will it reflect well on you to pass along articles if the topic is old news or appears in a nonreputable media outlet. Articles and conference invitations should be sent from you personally, and preferably with a personal note — not from your secretary or the marketing department. The note need not be elaborate — just a sentence or two along the lines of “I thought you might find this of interest.” Look for smart news stories relating to your clients’ industries and forward them (with a note), as well. This serves two purposes — it lets clients know that you’re thinking about them specifically, and non-verbally assures them that you’re on top of the latest industry developments and events. You can set your Internet browser to perform a search of the daily papers, and e-mail you any articles that contain your selected key words. Needless to say, you should not bill clients for these efforts. In the long run, the time you spend reaching out to your clients will be recouped through continued and expanded work on their behalf. One way to measure your efforts is to take a look at the competition. How are rival law firms communicating? Visit their Web sites and read their newsletters — make sure that your newsletter stands out from the pack in substance and timeliness. Use e-mail headlines to let clients know why they should read your update, as opposed to the five others (at least) they have received from other firms. It’s also essential to return calls immediately. You want all your clients to know that they are as important to your practice as you are to them. Set some time in your weekly schedule to make calls to ensure that everything is OK, and that no problems exist. Help them with anything that you can, and refer them to other professionals when asked. You must demonstrate your willingness to serve as a business partner as well as provide legal counsel. The personal component of client communications should not be ignored either. For example, if you learn a client contact has recently been promoted or appointed to a leadership position within a membership organization, send a note of congratulations. You can also send articles relating to clients’ personal interests. Move beyond the business relationship. Get to know what your clients (and prospective clients) like and dislike. Incorporate this information into your messages, meeting locations, and collateral materials that you send. If a client is interested in rock climbing, and while reading The Wall Street Journal you come across an article detailing a new rock-climbing product or recent adventure, cut it out and forward it — and don’t forget the personal note. Start a database of information detailing your current and prospective clients’ lives. This information should include marital status, spouse and children’s names, important dates in their lives, hobbies or items of interest, and anything else that may be beneficial to you during conversations and correspondence. EXPAND YOUR HORIZONS Adding services to existing clients will help keep them happy — and keep their business — yet it’s the new clients that make your practice grow. Cold calls are typically not received well. Colleagues at your firm are one source of introductions, but your existing clients can also provide invaluable entree to other businesses. Are you co-authoring articles with clients, or speaking at industry events with them? These are simple ways to ensure that the market knows whom you represent. Obtain referrals whenever possible, and use the opportunities to provide prospects with solid, useful information, rather than simply supplying them with your firm accolades and recent victories. Prospective clients want to know what you are going to do for them and to see that you care about their business. Use your experience to illustrate how you handled a similar situation on behalf of another company. But if you talk only about yourself, you will sound like a used car salesman. Instead, gain insight into what keeps the client up at night. Your marketing group can assist you in background research so that you can impress clients with your knowledge of their company and their industry. Use this information as an icebreaker, or bring it into the conversation with “I recently read that . . . .” Remember, the goal is to gain a rapport with the potential client and build trust — the foundations of a long-term relationship. Join the professional association of the industry that you want to target. Every industry has at least one organization where professionals congregate and meet on a regular basis. Nominate yourself or offer to assist the membership and program committees. These two committees are probably the highest profile and will allow you to meet as many people as possible. This gives you direct access to potential clients. Read the papers, both legal and non-legal. Look for information on companies that you are interested in working with. Use this information in every piece of correspondence or conversation that you have. This will demonstrate to the potential client that you are interested in a client’s personal business, and have an understanding about their corporate culture and any current issues they may be dealing with. Work the speaking circuits. Never turn down an engagement, and look to expand your opportunities. You may not obtain immediate results from these discussions, but will obtain name recognition and credibility. Finally, be sure to follow up with any prospective clients. The importance of doing this cannot be stressed enough. After a meeting, complete any items that require action immediately — your responsiveness after a face-to-face meeting is vital to turning a prospect into a client. TELL IT TO THE PRESS Another way to communicate to both clients and prospects is through the media. Working with the media can become a part of an attorney’s everyday business, and is perhaps the most effective way to publicize priorities, ideas, and achievements to the public. But regardless of the subject of the story, dealing with the press can be intimidating. Reporters can slice and dice interviews, and their resulting stories can wield immense influence. Your PR professional can work with you to increase your comfort level in handling the media, to demystify the process, and to give you some tips on responding to various media inquiries and reporters’ interviewing tactics. For example, it’s not out of line to ask that if a reporter plans to quote you, you’d like the quote read back to you prior to press time. But understand that the purpose is to make sure you are quoted accurately — reporters won’t appreciate it if you try at that point to refashion the quote. Your PR professional will recognize interesting and newsworthy information about the firm that can be tailored to suit particular media organizations, and is likely to be the one to reach out to the press. Primary targets are likely to include the legal newspapers, business newspapers, business magazines, and magazines directed at corporate counsel. Increased communication will assist your firm in achieving its top goal: to be recognized as the dominant XXX firm in the United States. It will also assist in upgrading the public image and prestige of the firm — which will then assist you in attracting top-tier laterals, who will bring new business and further increase the firm’s visibility. The cycle can go on and on. Your marketing and PR professionals will work with you to get the ball rolling — and ensure that it continues to move. There are numerous ways to effectively communicate with your clients, and strong relationships are best developed when you engage in several methods. It is, however, integral to understand that the key to success is regular and ongoing communication. Elizabeth Lampert is president of Elizabeth Lampert PR, a consultancy that focuses on media strategy, training, and media opportunities. She can be reached at [email protected] or at 925-932-4420. Sheila Turner is media relations manager for the U.S. offices at the international law firm of Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw and can be reached at [email protected]. She is based in the firm’s D.C. office.

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