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So here you are: You’re a third- or fourth-year associate, or maybe a bright second-year, and you’ve worked on a number of matters for a particular client. Maybe you’ve even started to think about the client as “your” client — that you’re a key member of the team to which the client turns in moments of greater or lesser crisis. And one day, the charge comes from the partner: You, the second- or third- or fourth-year associate, will be taking primary responsibility for solving one of the client’s problems. You will be the one sending the e-mails and having the phone conversations. You will be the keeper of this small, but important, part of the client relationship. It may not look like it, but this is your first rainmaking opportunity. Associates too often fret about bringing in new business without realizing that far more of the firm’s work comes not from attracting new clients, but from keeping old ones. Clients are fickle creatures, and their loyalty has to be earned. So how do you, as an associate, inspire this loyalty? As a former junior associate, and then a former in-house counsel — in other words, as someone who worked for the partner on Friday and had him working for me on Monday — I have a few thoughts, which I now share with you. � Every interaction is important. If the partner were sending you to court to argue a motion, you would spend some time anticipating the questions you’d get from the judge and thinking about alternatives to your primary points. You should do the same for calls or meetings with the client. Know what information you need to convey and what questions you need answered before you pick up the phone, even for the shortest phone call. Think about what the client is likely to ask you and have answers at the ready. The follow-up call, while often necessary, never quite packs the same punch. � The details matter. As a second-year associate, I couldn’t see the point of putting a caption on a draft motion, or making sure paragraphs in a draft memorandum were appropriately formatted. But as the client looking at these drafts, I considered them sloppy. The client will judge your work by what he sees, not by whether you put the word “Draft” at the top of the page. � Know your client’s business. Learn about the goods and services the company provides. Become familiar with the technology in the field. Know the names of its competitors. Get on the Internet and see what’s being said about your client by reporters and customers. Memorize the names of the top executives and any employees with whom you interact regularly. The associate assigned an Internet defamation case who asked me to explain to him how chat rooms worked did not inspire much confidence — especially when I suspected he’d billed me for the time I spent explaining it to him. � Respect your client’s time (and money). You may have only four or five active matters on your plate. Your client likely has 25 to 30 on a good day. If you don’t understand this, you’ll be seen as an annoyance, not as a trusted counselor. Keep your communications short and to the point. Know if your client prefers e-mail for conveying more-detailed information. Make it easier for your client to get you the information you need by summarizing requests in easily manageable lists with clear deadlines. Think about your needs more than a day at a time so that your client isn’t forced to repeat tasks unnecessarily. Your client won’t mind paying for your time off the phone if it results in efficient time on the phone. � Understand the company’s operational dynamics. Know whether you can contact employees directly for information or whether your client prefers to act as an intermediary. Understand your client’s reporting chain and how internal decisions are made. Recognize that your client undoubtedly has to justify your bills (and your advice) to his superiors. Learn about your client’s in-house clients — the company’s executives — and the personalities and issues they present. If your client’s clients are happy with him, he’ll be happy with you. � Give advice. The best way to inspire confidence is to be confident. Your client pays associates junior to you to review documents and draft memos; he pays you to tell him what to do. If you know the answer, tell him. If you have an assessment of the benefits and risks of a proposed plan of action, convey it. (And if you don’t, get one.) Even if your client ultimately disregards the advice you give, you will have done your job. � Be responsive. When your client needs answers, she usually needs them now — and usually because others within the company are demanding them yesterday. If you have an understanding client, she won’t begrudge you weekends and vacations, but make sure someone else is there to pick up the slack. If an e-mail goes unanswered for more than a day, she’s likely to look for someone else. And if that person is responsive, they’ll get the next call. � Keep your client informed. Be the first one to tell your client about a good (or bad) result in your case. Send your client news articles about the company he might not have seen. Alert your client to new litigation against the company, or new laws that affect its business. And send all this information for free — if you get the business, your firm will make far more money than it will for the tenth of a minute you’ll charge for the e-mail. � Recognize reality. In a perfect world, every client would immediately agree with every recommendation you make, have documents perfectly organized, and be able to make employees available for interviews at the drop of a hat. But the world isn’t perfect, and your client’s company — like almost all companies — has its faults. Your job is to deal with them as best you can, not to complain that the files are a mess or that the vice president of the company can give you only an hour for an interview. You can grumble once you get back to the office. � Have (and be) fun. It’s hard to have a sense of humor when a partner is pushing you for 2,300 hours and you have days of document review ahead. But the best associates don’t let on to their clients that they’re miserable. If you can refrain from passing your stress on to your client — and, indeed, gallantly take stress away from her — she’ll be forever in your debt. If your client genuinely likes you — if she knows that when the phone rings, she can look forward to a lively, efficient, and helpful conversation — you (and not the partner) may be the one who gets the call the next time the client is in need. You can’t make better rain than that. Laura A. Heymann is a former assistant general counsel at America Online Inc., and is now visiting associate professor of law and administrative fellow in the intellectual property law program at the George Washington University Law School.

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