Today, Every Lawyer Can Be a Trusted Advisor

Imagine your neighborhood is devastated by a flood. 

You fled with just the clothes on your back. Your business was destroyed, and your health is in doubt. You’re concerned about your family, your friends, your finances, your future. It’s horrific.

Put yourself in their shoes.

Think about that for a moment. Their lives are shattered, and their life’s work is crumbling around them. Will they survive until next week? Until next month? What does next year look like? Will they be able to feed their family? Where will they live? Will their business or homeowner’s insurance cover this catastrophe and, if so, how long will it take to get the money they desperately need?

Will government agencies offer help? If so, when? Where? How? What should they be doing right now, today? Their lives are in tatters from this unforeseen, unprecedented disaster. There’s no script for this. Powerful Masters of the Universe have been brought to their knees.

Think about that. And while you’re doing that, let me tell you about this award I recently won. I was selected as among the “10 Best Marketing Consultants” in my little suburb. I am pretty proud of this award and I thought you might be interested in learning more about it.

How do you like me now?

How does that sound? Do you feel better about me now than you did a minute ago? Are you more likely to want to do business with me? Or did it sound insensitive and tone deaf? Have I improved our relationship or harmed it?

Or imagine the California wildfires that devastated entire communities. Or the people in the northeast who suffered through Hurricane Sandy or the Puerto Ricans who lived through Maria. Neighborhoods were lost, businesses were flooded or burned to the ground. Many people’s life’s work was destroyed. How are they going to feed their families? Where will they live? Is anyone there to help them? Can you feel the enormous stress, anxiety, and depression they assuredly were experiencing?

And while you’re thinking about that, let me tell you about a really smart tax lawyer at our firm, or how I can save you 15% on your car insurance.

Is that sales pitch likely to be successful? Are people open to that presentation at this time? Or are they more likely to resent this obviously tone-deaf approach?

As extreme as these examples may feel, this is precisely the situation we all find ourselves in today. A global pandemic is destroying lives and businesses and families. It is making people feel powerless and emotionally brittle.

Being sincere and authentic.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that as lawyers, we are uniquely positioned to help them. Our legal skills can help those who are in distress. And, as long as it comes from a position of sincerity and care and authenticity, it should be well received.

As devastating as this pandemic era is for everyone, it is also literally the best time in history to sell legal services. Think of another time when nearly every single business in the nation needs the precise services we can offer.

I cannot conceive of another time when so many clients and prospects needed so much help. And we should feel good about being able to provide that help to them.

It’s time to reach out. To everyone.

This is the time to authentically reach out to our clients, to our contacts, to our friends and prospects. It is a time to offer aid and comfort in both the legal areas in which we offer services as well as any others where we can be of professional assistance or emotional support. And we can and should do so. Because that’s what a Trusted Advisor would do.

We all aspire to be Trusted Advisors, but under normal circumstances it can be difficult for lawyers to envision how to accomplish that. Lawyers tend to feel like we offer fungible services, indistinguishable from those of our top competitors. And oftentimes that’s true, our services are very similar. But the most critical differentiator we can offer today is our care and concern. And any decent lawyer, any decent person, can provide that vital support.

Many of us became lawyers because we like helping people. Today, we are uniquely situated to offer critical services that can help them through this devastating pandemic. But we are not likely to do so without dedicated, systematic, and proactive outreach.

Are you contacting all of your best clients?

Are you reaching out to them regularly? You should be. Because that is what a Trusted Advisor would do.

In fact, failing to do so could be detrimental to the relationship. I expect my accountant to contact me to ask about my business. She should want to learn how I’m doing and determine whether there’s anything she can do to help me through these difficult times. If she were to do that, I will remember, and be likely to forgive any missteps she makes in the future, because I knew she was there for me when I needed her.

Obviously, she would be entirely happy to help me if I call her and ask. And I may do so. But thus far, she has not contacted me―and I will remember that as well. Down the road, if I get pitched by another CPA for Fishman Marketing’s business, I’ll take that call. Any serviceable accountant can do our books―I’m looking for a Trusted Advisor. Apparently, I don’t currently have one.

How did you act after Katrina?

After Katrina hit, most of us called our friends in New Orleans to see how we could help. Not to discuss legal work, we just wanted to be supportive at a time when we knew they likely needed all sorts of help. These pandemic times are no different.

In 2019, contacting clients every week would seem creepy, like stalking. In the current climate, that is not the case. It is not entirely unreasonable to call a client and ask if it would be helpful to them to arrange a weekly check-in call, say, every Tuesday at 11, to discuss with them whatever new issues may have arisen, and strategize their next steps. Because that is what a Trusted Advisor would do.

They may reply that is too much, too frequent, but now they know we are available and anxious to help them. We’re thinking about them and their future success. Because that is what a Trusted Advisor would do.

What about companies who haven’t hired you yet?

And not just your best clients. Think about companies in the middle of your client list, or the smaller clients for whom you have only done one or two minor matters. They need help as well. In fact, they would appreciate your reaching out to them. It is a good way for them to infer the positive experience they would have if they chose to work with you regularly.

This is especially so if the lawyers whom they have historically used have not already done so. Help them see the care and concern that you offer to your valued clients.

Consider the prospects who have not yet hired you. Reach out to them as well, from a position of sincerity, of authenticity, of legitimate concern.

Reach out to them because you care.

These communications cannot be poorly perceived, as long as it is clear that you are not doing so to seek their business, but rather because you want to help them through this crisis. Offer insight and assistance―no charge. You have represented other companies similarly situated, similarly sized, or in similar industries, and this affords you unique insight into their current condition. Would that be useful to them to chat about it?

Are they obtaining PPP financing and, if so, how is that going? If they have not, can you help provide some additional ideas or strategies? Are they struggling with issues regarding their employees―with furloughs, layoffs, or terminations? Are they struggling with personnel working from home or bringing their workers gradually back to work safely? Perhaps you can put them in touch with bankers, accountants, financial advisors you know who offer their own expertise and you feel might be a good fit for them.

Presumably you have experience in one or more of these areas and can offer tailored insight to them. You should feel free to do so. Because that is what a Trusted Advisor would do.

Of course, you are not charging for these brief phone calls, this is simply you investing in the relationship. Obviously, if a larger legal matter arises from this, then you would charge them as you would under normal circumstances. But that is not why you are engaging in this outreach. You are doing so because that is what a Trusted Advisor would do.

Interested in cross selling?

I am getting a lot of questions from lawyers and marketers who are interested in cross-selling additional services to their existing clients. Perhaps they have lawyers who are not busy and they would like to sell services in those areas. I tell them to immediately stop that attempt. First, cross selling efforts are always fraught with peril. If the effort is made in order to keep your lawyers busy, or because you see the opportunity to generate more business, or make more money, those efforts will be poorly received. You’re pushing cheaper car insurance.

However, that is not to say that seeking to cross sell services should not be attempted. In fact, this is the best time in history to engage in cross-selling efforts. But it must be done under very careful circumstances.

When attempting to cross sell it must come from a position of care, concern, and an interest in helping them through their problems. The strategy I recommend is to identify a team of professionals in different practices and industries who offer the full range of services and expertise a specific client might benefit from.

“Would that be helpful?”

I would call the client and suggest that you have a team of lawyers and professionals with a range of experiences representing similar companies in their industry who might be able to talk them through the current challenges and offer some specific solutions. Then ask the most critical phrase: “Would that be helpful?”

Then you arrange a videoconference with that dedicated team to spend some time discussing with the client their current challenges. Having different perspectives in a variety of areas of expertise on the same call is likely to generate valuable solutions for that client. Remember, you are not charging for this call or effort; you are simply investing in a valuable relationship.

Don’t sell. Please, don’t sell.

You cannot be perceived as selling during this call but rather offering sophisticated and meaningful advice and assistance. Because that is what a Trusted Advisor would do.

If legal work flows from this, then you may charge for it. But you do not charge for the brief phone calls or strategy sessions.

Looking at your efforts through a “Trusted Advisor” lens makes it almost impossible to make a misstep in your marketing and communications.  If it is seen as an authentic attempt to help, then you have strengthened your relationship. Because that is what a Trusted Advisor would do.

Take care and be safe, everyone.

 

 

 

[A version of this post, beautifully edited by Senior Managing Editor Valerie Danner, was published on August 25, 2020 in the Association of Legal Management’s (ALA) “Legal Management” magazine.]

 

Gekko image (c) 2020 GEICO Insurance

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