Eight management questions from private client lawyers

At the recent MBL full day online workshop on “How to Manage & Grow Your Private Client Practice”  with private client lawyers from across the UK, we discussed a variety of contemporary management and marketing issues. During the session there were a number of management questions from private client lawyers and I have shared them here – with the responses – as an additional learning resource for the course delegates. The poll results are also shown below

What are the core challenges facing private client teams?

A good strategy will identify and find solutions to the core challenge. The size and type of private client teams amongst the delegates was diverse so it was no surprise that the perceived core challenges were different. Those that were mentioned included:

Recruitment – Attracting and recruiting high calibre candidates remains a challenge for most firms. Several mentioned that their teams lacked juniors – solicitors, paralegals and support staff. This meant that growth was constrained. Consequently, some had put a hold on their marketing and business development while capacity issues were addressed.

Engagement – Delegates talked about the challenge of engagement amongst their teams. Many teams were under pressure to fulfil client service obligations, leaving little time for anything else. Working from home (WFH) had also made it harder to create a sense of team work and cohesion – particularly for newer and more junior members of the private client department.

Marketing and business development – Encouraging everyone within the team to be involved in marketing and business development – whether networking or producing content – was a challenge. This meant that the lion’s share of business development activity fell on the shoulders of the already-overstretched senior team members.

Investment – Some private client teams found themselves competing for investment against other teams (such as residential conveyancing) in the firm. Others reported difficulties in achieving support for the significant time investment (which reduced fee-earning time) required to grow and develop the private client team.

Increasing client expectations – Some reported that increasing client knowledge, sophistication and expectations were placing pressures on the private client team. For example, clients expecting an immediate response to questions on a 24/7 basis. Alongside fee resistance.

The core challenges have changed somewhat since these heads of private client departments debated the issues in 2017 Private client marketing – five thoughts from heads of department (kimtasso.com)

What makes a good private client leader?

Some of the delegates were established or newly appointed leaders of private client teams. There was a lively discussion about what makes a good private client leader. Observations included:

  • Encourage and drive growth
  • Understand the financial drivers of the private client team
  • Clear vision for the future of the private client department
  • Technically good from a legal perspective with a track record of building client relationships
  • “Walks the talk” – exhibits all the behaviours you want others to adopt
  • Manage people, resources, clients and operations efficiently
  • Be open to and provide support to team members
  • Forge relationships with other teams within the firm and secure Board support
  • Listen and take on ideas from others – a consultative style
  • Motivate and develop the team – particularly with regards to growth and succession
  • Know how to take charge – and have the confidence to do so – in challenging situations

We reviewed a number of leadership models and discussed the need to strike a balance  between the task (achieve the aims) and relationships (the performance of individuals and the team). We also considered different leadership styles and saw the benefits of dual leadership Leadership teams: Maverick Magpies and Predictable Pigeons (kimtasso.com)

There was also some discussion about the soft skills required for leadership – especially emotional intelligence. Research on leadership and emotional intelligence (EQ) (kimtasso.com)

What are the future challenges for private client lawyers?

An early question was about the future challenges that are likely to be faced by private client lawyers. We reviewed the research results of several studies – for lawyers generally as well as for private client lawyers. The Law Society provided helpful information for issues in the global legal market Law Society Research Report – Future Worlds 2050 (kimtasso.com). The delegate views focused on:

Cost of living crisis

In the short term, delegates mentioned the impact of the cost of living crisis. With increasing tax and energy prices being compounded with growing inflation affecting a whole raft of other costs, it is likely that clients will be more careful about their legal spend.

Clients will look for ways to save money resulting in increased pressure on legal fees and some may attempt to tackle matters themselves. An alternative view was that the short term pressures might prompt clients to review their estate planning urgently – and there may not be the resources available to manage a short term increase in demand for advice.

Recruiting and retaining high calibre lawyers

Most delegates mentioned the challenge of attracting, recruiting and retaining high calibre private client team members. Many thought that the war for talent will only get tougher in the future.

The use of technology

Keeping up with technology was seen as a future challenge – whether this was to improve the service and client experience, differentiate offerings, innovate new services or to enable clients to do more for themselves.

Some reflected on the fact that larger firms have greater access to tech expertise and resources which can make makes it harder for smaller firms to compete in this regard.

One system that was mentioned was Exizent  – a Probate and estate administration specialist platform. There are many other systems designed for private client teams which could be explored (although it was stressed that the aims and expected results of adopting new technology should be clear from the outset), for example:

Increasing client sophistication

The Internet and social media has increased the amount of information available to clients. As a result they are often better informed and this creates more sophisticated clients who might require a different level of knowledge and/or different services and advice. Loyalty has been affected and clients are more likely to shop around for their legal advice.

Some clients are extremely tech-savvy and expect a level of service that far outstrips that which some law firms are able to provided. This spans from new online communications methods to expectations about document management and speed and flexibility of matter completion. Client expectations of speed of response are also increasing – placing additional pressures on private client teams.

Another downside of greater access to technology and information is that sometimes clients are poorly informed – having accessed Google information that is incorrect, out of date or not relevant to their circumstances. It can also make it difficult for private client lawyers to persuade them that their knowledge and ideas may not be appropriate.

How to motivate and retain young lawyers when promotion prospects are limited?

In a smaller private client team, there is often less perceived opportunity for advancement up through the ranks. So the challenge is how to motivate and retain those young lawyers. Especially as those from the younger generations may not necessarily be motivated to partnership – but do need to see regular and rapid career progress.

We spent some time considering the general guidance about motivation. Then brainstormed a range of ideas to help:

  • Set short term goals for practice and career development
  • Provide regular feedback – particular positive feedback to build confidence The art of giving feedback – top tips (kimtasso.com)
  • Offer opportunities to become involved in planning and management
  • Increase responsibility by encouraging them to lead internal projects
  • Restructure the team to allow them to create new services or develop niche markets
  • Introduce them to key clients and referrers so they become involved in relationship management
  • Provide coaching or mentoring support
  • Allocate responsibility for specific aspects of the private client plan
  • Encourage and support them to develop their own profile and brand
  • Source a variety of learning and development opportunities
  • Allow greater exposure to other teams within the firm
  • Encourage them to spend time in the office to form internal networks and social bonds

Shadow boards are being used by some firms both to tap into the thoughts of younger members of staff and as a way to start developing their leadership potential.

Motivating people in a property business (kimtasso.com)

What are the best methods for growing the private client team?

This is a huge topic and spans both organic growth and the use of mergers and acquisitions. And it requires the private client leaders to adopt a strategic approach to assessing the markets, their position and the future opportunities and threats as part of a business planning exercise. Why do you need a business plan? 10 reasons why (kimtasso.com)

Some firms invest in research and analysis about emerging and future client needs. Then they make choices about either creating new services or entering new markets – whether geographical or based on some other segmentation approach. The key is to have focus to avoid trying to progress on too many different fronts at once.

Some firms choose to analyse and develop their existing client base – whether clients of other parts of the firm (through cross-selling or key client programmes) or legacy private clients. Whilst others focus on new client acquisition.

Some firms will concentrate on strengthening relationships with third party referrers and intermediaries.

This article summarises the main marketing and business development strategies adopted by private client teams: Strategies for developing a private client practice – Business development (kimtasso.com)

How do we maximise the number of enquiries we convert to clients?

Before looking at marketing and business development activities to generate more enquiries, it makes sense to analyse the quantity and quality (and source) of those being generated at present and to explore whether the conversion rate can be improved.

This type of analysis informs and refines the marketing strategy. And helps with the creation of screening and qualification criteria to support call handling processes. It also assesses which fee-earners and assistants have the most success in nurturing and converting enquiries – so best practice can be gleaned and shared.

Processes and procedures need to be reviewed and optimised. Teams have different processes for managing calls – some have designated people to which all calls are channelled (one firm has a “Welcome Team”), others allocate calls to whoever is available in the private client team and some have assistants take initial details before referring them to a more senior lawyer. We discussed the pros and cons of these different approaches

There needs to be integrated systems to record and follow up enquiries to move people along the client journey towards instruction. The firm’s CRM system will be a part of this process for staying on the radar of and in regular contact with people whether or not they convert into clients immediately.

This article explores the topic in detail Enquiry management: Converting more telephone enquiries (kimtasso.com)

How do we respond to clients seeking initial free advice?

Many private client teams face a conundrum. Clients often expect and request some free initial advice. Whilst this is a good opportunity to develop rapport and win the client, it takes a lot of time. There are instances of clients seeking free advice with little or not intention of instructing lawyers on a fee-paying basis.

Firms need information, processes and systems to enable them to quickly and accurately assess which clients and situations should be given free advice. These screening and qualification criteria can often be gleaned from an analysis of past clients. The people taking and screening calls will need training and advice on how best to tackle the process.

It is also a good idea to build in some form of test commitment to clients requesting free advice. For example, by asking them to complete some information in advance of the session. If they invest time in providing information to your firm, it’s more likely that they will continue to work with you after the meeting as it is easier to than providing same information to another firm.

Ensure whoever is managing the “free advice” interaction is well trained in how to connect with the client, answer their questions, identify their needs and be confident in persuading people about the firm’s value and pricing.

There also needs to be robust follow up processes – sending information immediately after the meeting and keeping the person on the radar with regular updates and checking calls.

Which private client teams are leading in marketing and business development?

During the afternoon we examined many case studies and examples of marketing and business development by both large and small private client teams. Some other firms (including accountants) to consider include:

If you have any comments, observations or advice to add to these questions and answers please comment below or email kim@kimtasso.com

Thanks to Clare Hamer of MBL for her brilliant technical co-hosting support which helped make the day interactive and enjoyable for all of us.

Poll Results

About your private client team:

            How many partners?

  • 1 partner              50%
  • 2 – 5 partners     25%
  • 6 – 10 partners   0%
  • Over 10 partners 25%

How many offices?

  • Just one       14%
  • 2 – 5 offices 57%
  • Over five     29%

Which services do you provide?

  • Wills                                    100%
  • Trusts                                     71%
  • Private wealth                       14%
  • Probate                                 100%
  • Court of Protection              29%
  • Tax & Estate planning          71%
  • International tax planning  14%
  • Charity law                               0%
  • Private client disputes         43%

Which topic is of most interest to you today?

  • Vision and leadership           17%
  • Developing a business plan 33%
  • Operational management    17%
  • Strategic marketing               17%
  • Marketing promotions           0%
  • Selling/Relationships            17%

Do you have a business plan for the private client team?

  • Yes 17%
  • No 83%

Do you have a M&BD plan for the private client team?

  • Yes 50%
  • No 50%

Is your M&BD planning focused on your department or markets?

  • Department based 33%
  • Market base            17%
  • Mixture                   50%

What professional M&BD support do you have?

  • Inhouse M&BD team for the firm    33%
  • Inhouse M&BD for private client     17%
  • External marketing/PR agency        17%
  • None – we do it all ourselves            33%

Which area of business development requires most attention at your firm?

  • Marketing (generating enquiries)                                    33%
  • Selling (converting enquiries)                                           33%
  • Client relationship management (developing clients) 17%
  • Referrer management (developing referrers)                17%

Do you have plans to introduce new private client services?

  • Yes 71%
  • No 29%

Do you have plans to enter or develop new markets for private client services?

  • Yes 71%
  • No 29%

What new or existing private client niche markets are you aware of?

  • New money
  • Empty nesters
  • Sandwich generation
  • Family businesses
  • Agricultural/rural clients
  • Families with disabled children
  • First time buyers (for Wills)
  • Older clients concerned about care home fees
  • Wealthy elderly
  • Your adults with learning difficulties
  • Blended families combining assets
  • Those without family
  • Young graduates (buying property)

How effective do you find social media?

  • Highly effective                        0%
  • Reasonably effective               25%
  • Ineffective                                  0%
  • Good as part of a campaign  50%
  • Don’t know                               25%

Which social media platforms do you use?

  • LinkedIn             100%
  • Facebook             100%
  • Twitter                   75%
  • Instagram              25%
  • YouTube                  0%
  • Blogs                       75%
  • Podcasts                  0%

How do you classify, grade or segment your existing clients?

  • We don’t
  • By matter type
  • By wealth and assets
  • By referrer
  • By sector

The two most interesting or valuable ideas from today?

  • Obtain enquiry conversion rates data and monitor
  • Develop a proper strategic plan
  • Set realistic timescales
  • Recognise individual strengths and weaknesses of the team members
  • Restructure team and re-assign non fee-earning roles and responsibilities
  • Building the vision and mission of the private client team
  • Create a business plan for the private client team
  • Make the web site more accessible and interesting
  • Prioritise goals and don’t try to do everything at once
  • Conduct more analysis and research before setting priorities
  • Work with the team to create a vision and business plan
  • Investigate new technology
  • Improve our information systems and processes