In 2012 I went to Boston, Calgary, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Napa, Phila­delphia, and Washington, D.C., to talk to lawyers and executives about their firms. Over the course of those travels, I kept notes on innovative programs that firms use to deepen ties with their clients and alumni—something that market-leading firms do to set themselves apart. Here are three programs that stood out.
• Client teams. These are not new, but some firms, especially Paul Hastings and Mayer Brown, are taking them very seriously. Typically, firms pick five to 10 clients that they think are likely to give them the most business over the next five years.
Let’s say one of those clients is a global bank. Every partner working on matters for that bank, around the world, gets together regularly to discuss the work they’re doing for that client. (One partner oversees the whole client team.) The global bank’s law firm team also meets with several executives and in-house counsel from the client, face-to-face, at least once a year.
These teams serve several purposes. They show the client some love and make the global bank feel special. Partners at the firm get to know multiple people at the bank, so there’s less risk of losing the client if the general counsel leaves or a partner tries to defect with the business. Client teams also help partners across practices at the firm get to know each other better; and, finally, the team approach helps to upsell other legal work to the client because of the many client-firm interactions.
• Alumni groups. Shedding associates is a part of law firm life. Staying in touch with these lawyers can often be a terrific business development strategy. Some firms hold regular—perhaps quarterly—local events with their former lawyers. (Some firms only reach out to ex-associates who have gone in-house; others invite all alumni in the area.) There’s a lot of upside to these gatherings. With minimal effort the firm lawyers can network with current or potential clients. They may get referral work from alumni who have gone to other firms. And, from a marketing standpoint, the firm is seen as a benevolent institution that still cares about its former employees after they’re gone.
• Foreign secondments. Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and a few other firms have programs for foreign lawyers enrolled in American LL.M. programs, such as at NYU Law School. After earning their degree, the foreign lawyers "second" with the Am Law 200 firm for several months before returning home.
When I asked two Cleary partners in New York who do a lot of South American work how they get their referrals to companies in the region, they pointed to their "alumni network." The women were referring to the strong ties they had developed with South American lawyers who had seconded at Cleary’s New York office, and how those ties had paid off once the foreign lawyers returned home. The program is an easy way for the firm to deepen its connection with lawyers (and by proxy their clients) in another part of the world. Facebook isn’t the only way to stay in touch.