Managing and growing your private client practice (January 2021)

In early January, over 20 delegates joined an MBL online training session on “Managing and growing your private client practice”. This article shows the poll results and summarises the points arising from the discussions and breakout sessions and supplements the materials provided at the session.


55% of the delegates had just one partner in their private client team and 45% had between two and five partners. 50% of the delegates operated from one office, 43% from two to five offices and 7% from over five offices.
In terms of the range of services provided, the poll revealed:

  • 100% Wills
  • 100% Probate
  • 92% Trusts
  • 92% Court of Protection
  • 85% Tax and estate planning
  • 54% Private client disputes
  • 23% Private wealth
  • 8% Charity law

The aims of the delegates included:

  • Develop a business and/or marketing plan
  • Develop into a new role as head of a private client department
  • Growth – for the practice overall or specific services (e.g. Probate, Court of Protection)
  • Improve profitability
  • Prepare for growth and development post-Covid

From the course contents, strategy emerged as a key topic as an area of most interest to delegates:

  • Vision and leadership 43%
  • Developing a business plan 21%
  • Operational management 0%
  • Strategic marketing 21%
  • Marketing communications and promotes 7%
  • Selling and client/referrer relationships 7%

Mission and vision statements

We reviewed mission and vision statements from several leading private client practices. The lessons learned included:

  • Appeal to and be relevant to the target audience
  • Keep them short, punchy, clear and to the point
  • Focus on the future
  • Avoid self-serving waffle
  • Avoid being too corporate or too general

Introductory video on mission and vision statements


Delegates identified the actions and attributes of leaders:

Action Attribute
Have vision Approachable
Set goals Truthful
Develop strategy Encouraging
Support the team Authentic
Listen Motivating
Reflect Firm
Recruit great people Fair
Set a good example Responsive
Give time to clients and team Decisive
Believe in the team Inclusive
Find solutions Knowledgeable
Help people reach their potential Collaborative
Facilitate Caring
Generate new work Wise
Retain and develop clients Experienced
Maintain morale Thoughtful
Have specialist knowledge Empathic
Manage performance

There are numerous articles about leadership (see, for example: Leadership: Authenticity, values and culture – an overview | Kim Tasso)).
Soft skills are considered in detail in Essential soft skills for lawyers | Kim Tasso

Business planning

When asked whether delegates had a business plan, the response was:

  • Yes 24%
  • Yes – but it’s out of date 29%
  • No 47%

When asked whether plans were focused on departments (inside out) or markets (outside in), the response was:

  • Department based 33%
  • Market based 7%
  • Mixture 33%
  • None 20%

Delegates shared what they considered to be the core challenges to overcome with their strategies:

  • Board support
    • Investment to support the growth of the private client team
  • Financial
    • Generating sufficient revenue
    • Improving profitability
  • Business development
    • Identifying new sources of work
    • BD in the Covid environment
    • Building relationships
    • Competition
    • Public perception of value from solicitors
    • Clients undertaking complex work themselves (DIY)
  • Human resources
    • Encouraging and enabling the team
    • Remote supervision/working from home/Working safely
    • Recruitment of good quality candidates
    • Managing under performance and over performance
  • Time/resources
    • Too busy with day-to-day operational management and fee-earning

Guidance on developing a business plan – including the typical structure and contents – is here: Why do you need a business plan? 10 reasons why | Kim Tasso There was some discussion about the need to include risk analyses and disaster recovery plans.
During a discussion on current strategies there were comments about having the private client voice heard across the firm, the impact of referrals both internally and externally, the amount of granularity in business plans, managing through the Covid crisis and fluctuating levels of demand.
There was talk of the value of using Investors in People as a quality standard relevant to people businesses such as law firms.

Future trends

We conducted a quick PESTLE analysis (see the introductory video on PESTLE analysis). The key trends identified by the delegates included:

  • Economy
    • Post Brexit/Post lockdown recession
    • Future changes to the tax regime for businesses and individuals
    • Rise of hyper-local currencies to support local businesses
    • Changes to ownership of overseas assets
  • Sociological
    • More working from home as the norm (less office space required)
    • Consumers taking more responsibility for managing their own legal affairs
    • Greater demand for personal service from some segments
  • Technology
    • Greater use of technology by everyone – including elderly clients
    • Increased demand for online services and out of hours support
  • Environmental
    • Pressure to use less paper, energy and other resources

Numerous research resources were shared – including the 2020 legal benchmarking report from MHA.

Operational management

There was a breakout session on operational challenges in finance, HR, technology and processes.
One issue was on how to incentivise support staff through periods of change when they are on different reward structures. We talked about Hodge Jones and Allen which became employee-owned in 2018 to address this issue.


There was significant discussion about the advances in technology. Delegates observed that larger law firms had more money to invest in tech development and specialist staff to manage systems analysis and develop online and app services and design user experiences (Ux).
It was also noted that the public perception of what technology could achieve may increase their expectations whilst reducing their propensity to pay fees for complex, advisory services.
This led to a short debate about shifting business models from charging for time to product, subscription and licensing models. As an aside, it was noted that Gill Steel had recently presented research on will writing software (the hour webinar can be purchased for £40 here Webinar Recording: Why Use Will Drafting software? – LawSkills)

Marketing and business development (M&BD)

In terms of the professional marketing/BD support:

  • 33% had access to the firm’s marketing/BD support
  • 67% had no support and had to do all marketing/BD themselves

Not surprisingly, 42% did not have a marketing/BD plan for the private client team. 67% intended to introduce or develop new services and  73% hoped to enter or develop new markets.
In terms of the business development priorities this was evenly spread:

  • Marketing and generating enquiries 38%
  • Selling and converting interest 15%
  • Client relationship management 8%
  • Referrer management 38%

Market mapping and persona development tools were applied during a breakout. There was a discussion about segments of the elderly market (including those about to or recently retired) and also about husband and wife business owners.
There was a lively debate about the effectiveness of different marketing communications approaches. Some reported that seminars and webinars were particularly effective – sometimes with clients coming back to the firm for assistance years after the event. Presenting talks at events hosted by others were also mentioned – for nursing homes, Women’s  Institute and other community organisations.
Some had used VIP client events and targeted leaflets in HNW areas with good results. Mixed results were reported for newsletters. There was a brief discussion about grading clients in order to target activities more efficiently – there is a video on the dinosaur approach to client portfolio management  as well as targeting using rabbits, deer and elephants.

Social media

Engaging all staff in amplifying social media content was seen as an effective strategy. In terms of the effectiveness of social media:

  • 8% said it was highly effective
  • 23% said it was reasonably effective
  • 8% said it was ineffective
  • 23% argued it was good as part of an overall campaign
  • 38% didn’t know whether it was effective or not

Amongst the social media platforms used:

  • 85% used Facebook
  • 77% LinkedIn
  • 62% Twitter
  • 23% Blogs
  • 15% Instagram
  • 9% YouTube
  • 8% None
  • 0% Podcasts

Marketing budgets

There was a discussion about marketing budgets.
Whilst some people talked about the typical investment of cash for marketing compared to, say, the overall revenue or profit to be generated it was noted that often the major cost was the investment of lawyer time. This was especially true where the main strategy involved relationship development with clients and referrers.
Many firms do not record or monitor time invested in business development – which is an opportunity cost for developing future profits. This is critical for measuring Return on Investment for marketing and business development.
Further information on referrer management is here Highlights from a referrer management workshop (2020) | Kim Tasso


Fixed fees dominated in most services although there were exceptions in Probate and Trust. Some felt that their prices were possibly too low.
Some segments showed less price sensitivity than others so targeting was important.  Some firms regularly conducted mystery shopping exercises to compare prices with competitors.

Managing enquiries

There was a range of ways of managing enquiries amongst delegates. Some have a rota of enquiry triage days, some have the marketing professionals receive, screen and allocate all enquiries and some had a designated paralegal whilst others allowed personal conversations with a solicitor as standard. Enquiry management: Converting more telephone enquiries | Kim Tasso
On-boarding processes were varied – some included a preliminary meeting, most involved attendance notes and initial client care letters but many did not have databases or systems for managing ongoing communication in a structured way. There was therefore a lot to develop in terms of ongoing relationship management and cross-selling processes.


The delegates reported that the most important or valuable ideas discussed during the day included:

  • Mission and vision statements
  • Business planning
  • Financial and other goals
  • Analysing the market – and identifying suitable segments and niches
  • Praising and encouraging the team
  • Focused marketing strategy
  • Marketing mix planning
  • Internal and external marketing techniques
  • Targeting for campaigns
  • Following up on events

Immediate, priority actions for the delegates included: business planning, a vision for private client team, market research, updating the web site, more structured and proactive marketing and better use of social media.
I’m delighted that the feedback from the session was really positive with comments including:

  • “Really, really helpful”
  • “Really interesting day”
  • “Lots to think about”
  • “Great session – the day went so quickly”
  • “Thanks, lots of helpful ideas to take away”
  • “It was really inspirational – I am very optimistic that I now have the tools to grow the department”
  • “Superb – thank you Kim!”

I’d like to thank Lauren Brown and Claire Hamer at MBL for their excellent technology and hosting skills which made the day run smoothly – and for supporting those delegates grappling with technology gremlins.
Details of my future MBL training sessions