Strategies for developing a private client practice

Last week I led another of MBL’s popular “How to manage and grow your private client practice” online (LearnLive) training sessions for a day. We covered a wide range of strategic, management, operational and business development topics. This article is for the benefit of the delegates who requested a summary of the key elements of the session. The poll results and delegate feedback are shown below. During the day we touched on the different strategies for developing a private client practice.

Strategies for developing a private client practice

Naturally, the strategies chosen depended on the strength, size and location of the firms. And also on the nature of the firm’s target markets and segments. Some of these strategies are used in combination within integrated campaigns.

Before selecting a strategy it is necessary to undertake a thorough analysis of your past and existing sources of work and clients. And then to set SMART and SPARC objectives against which progress can be measured. These two stages in the strategic process will help firms focus on selecting the appropriate strategies to meet their goals. There is a summary of the analysis and planning process.

Whilst there were many similarities in the circumstances and challenges faced by the delegates’ firms, it was interesting to see the variety of different strategies adopted to achieve their aims. This is a clear indication that there is no “one size fits all” approach to marketing private client services.

Community engagement – “They walk amongst you”

Many long-established, traditional High Street practices are sufficiently well-known and embedded in the local community that much of their work is derived this way. Strong and regular communications with key organisations and associations in the community are a hallmark of this approach. Some firms will sponsor local schools and sports club and organise networking activities around these. Some private client lawyers will become governors or Trustees of local associations for similar purposes.

Networking – “Busy Bees”

Similar to the community engagement – and often a key component of that strategy – are those firms who ensure that their lawyers are energetic and ubiquitous networkers in the community. These lawyers may combine networking with presentations to break the ice, showcase their ideas and people and provide an opportunity to “Try before you buy”. As well as providing focus and training to improve networking effectiveness, some firms will also support their lawyers become good ambassadors for all of the firm’s services (not just private client).

Leveraging the client base – “Legacy clients”

Some private client teams have a well-established client base which they leverage through programmes of regular contact, social events and other added value activities in a client relationship management programme. One of the delegates described a great example of a live juke box event following tea hampers being sent to care home residents. Another delegate talked about “virtual clinics” where clients could raise simple questions for some immediate advice.

Email marketing and seminar and webinar programmes are often at the heart of these programmes. Some firms will concentrate resources on key relationships in a Key Account Management (KAM) programme. Others may develop campaigns to generate business through mining their Wills bank. Although this is becoming a tougher strategy as clients are generally more mobile and able to access DIY online legal services.

Rock Stars (Leading lawyers) – “BrandMe”

Some firms have one or two leading lawyers who lead their profile raising and business development.

Sometimes this is the “rainmaker” model where those leading lawyers are doing the lion’s share of the business generation. Other times a lawyer has particular expertise or experience and it is his or her personal brand that dominates communications.

Media relations is often a core component of these strategies with regular interviews on the TV, radio and in local newspapers and magazines. These firms are often reliant on their ratings in the Legal 500 and Chambers directories and/or the awards at organisations such as The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP)  or Citywealth. 

Niche marketing – “Penetrate and Dominate”

Some private client lawyers will identify and focus on a particular segment of the market. This may be due to the nature of the local market (e.g. in Bedford there is a large Italian community) and at other times it may be reliant on particular skills or accreditations (e.g. having the Law Society Deaf accreditation). During the session, we considered some of the different personas for clients of private client services too.

There’s further information on segmentation and personas:

Merge or recruit lateral hires – “Safety in numbers” or “New guns for hire”

Some firms look at acquiring or merging with other private client practices. This may be to achieve critical mass, address succession issues or to add new skills or fill gaps in expertise. Similarly, some firms will look to hire senior lawyers who can bring either a client following with them or who can lead a drive to build the practice.

Content management, digital marketing and social media – “Reach out and resonate”

Increasingly, firms are generating high quality content in a variety of formats and sharing this through digital and social media channels. These firms will invest in producing high quality videos, podcasts, infographics for their high-quality content. This raises awareness, prompts engagement and generates enquiries.

It is also good for remaining on the radar of referrers and existing clients. A core component of this strategy is an excellent web site with multiple landing pages for the various digital marketing campaigns. These firms use their analytics data well to pinpoint where most interest and enquiries are generated and hone their digital campaigns.

Campaigns – “Hot topic”

Some firms scan the horizon and pick up on a new or emerging need or issue and create a time-limited campaign. This will draw on a range of marketing and business development activities over a period of time. This has the advantage of allowing different members of the private client team to play to their strengths (e.g. presenting, networking, social media, meetings etc) as well as concentrating and focusing the core message to the market. It is easier to stand out or differentiate this way. It is also easier to measure the overall impact – in awareness, engagement, enquiries and new clients – with an integrated campaign.

Thought leadership – “Leading the debate”

A more sophisticated approach to content management programmes and communications campaigns are adopted by those firms who invest in research to generate original data. A good example in the private client field is Charles Russell Speechly’s “Connected Generations” campaign. You can learn more about thought leadership here:

Advertising – “Wallpaper and Banners”

Whereas content management and social media are relatively inexpensive in cash costs, they do require a lot of lawyer time. Advertising, on the other hand, is more cash intensive and likely to generate more immediate results.

Many firms use traditional advertising media – such as local magazines and newspapers, transport advertising and even floral displays. Many firms will also use a variety of online and digital advertising – through Google search engines and banner ads on social media – either for general awareness raising or to support specific campaigns. There’s an introduction to Google and social media advertising 

Cross-selling and internal marketing – “Send me your clients”

Some private client teams are reliant on internal referrals – both from their colleagues in commercial teams who are serving the needs of business clients and those providing services to individuals in residential conveyancing and family matters. Structured programmes for internal communication and internal marketing are used. Some firms have reward systems for referrals generated by partners and staff for other departments. Some firms promote private client services through Key Account Management (KAM) and Account-Based Marketing (ABM) programmes.

Referrers and intermediaries – “You scratch my back”

Many private client lawyers rely on recommendations and referrals from other lawyers, accountants, banks, IFAs, property agents and other third party referrers. There are many articles about developing a suitable referrer management strategy, see for example:

Joint marketing with one association – “Clown fish”

Clown fish have a symbiotic relationship with anemones – they are reliant on each other to receive mutual benefits. So it is with some private client practices who form a close relationship with just one referral organisation in their market. The majority of their marketing efforts are aimed at reaching each other’s client bases with complimentary services.

New product or service development – “Something new…”

Some firms will use innovation and/or technology to create new services for clients. We discussed the example of Royds Withy King and its LifeSafe® product.

In a similar vein, some private client lawyers will look at combining their services with other legal services to provide “bundled” solutions to particular types of clients (e.g. small business owners planning their exit through a MBO).

Client Experience Management (CEM) – “Phone rings and email pings”

Some private client solicitors will focus on mapping out the client journey and enhancing the experience or adding value. Many will focus on the relationship and responsiveness of the lawyers. Others will look at ways to introduce technology and automation to differentiate their service.

There was a discussion here about using external mystery shopping advisers to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the way that telephone calls or emails are managed. I call this “analysis of phone rings and email pings”. Many firms use NPS  to measure client satisfaction and identify bright spots and problem areas. Training for legal and support staff in forging strong relationships and delivering high quality interactions are often at the heart of these programmes. Some articles on this topic:

Delegate poll results – Strategies for developing a private client practice

During the session there were numerous polls. Here are the results which can be compared with polls from previous sessions.

How many partners in your private client team?

  • 67% Just one partner
  • 33% 2 – 5 partners

How many offices does your private client team cover?

  • 83% Just one office
  • 17% 2 – 5 offices

Which private client services do you provide?

  • 83% Wills
  • 83% Trusts
  • 83% Tax and estate planning
  • 83% Probate
  • 67% Court of Protection (COP)
  • 50% Private client disputes
  • 17% Private wealth
  • 17% Charity law
  • 17% Elderly law

Reasons for attending the session:

  • Growing the practice
  • Business development
  • Career progression (management development)
  • Head of department – need to produce a plan

Which topics are of most interest today:

  • 29% Vision and leadership
  • 29% Developing a business plan
  • 14% Strategic marketing
  • 14% Marketing communications and promotions
  • 14% All areas

Is your business and marketing planning internally or externally focused?

  • 40% Department based
  • 40% Mixture of market and department based
  • 20% We don’t have a plan

The core challenge facing your private client department?

  • Getting the right kind of clients and work
  • Recruitment of future team members
  • Establishing ourselves
  • Extending our marketing beyond an “accommodation” business for other departments such as conveyancing
  • Joined up thinking – 15 fee-earners working independently at present
  • Succession
  • Getting good quality work
  • Finding new clients to add to our long-established legacy clients
  • Sustainable growth
  • Team motivation

Reaction to vision and mission statements of other private client teams (there is a short video on mission and vision statements)  :

  • Most are too general
  • Many are too wordy
  • Those that are brief and concise have most impact
  • Some are too long and some are too short to be meaningful
  • They are all very similar – there’s little to differentiate
  • Few mention their commitment to their local community
  • We should have one!

Attributes of great leaders:

  • Brings the best out in people
  • Communicates well
  • Articulates a clear vision that others can buy into
  • Provides a good example/role model
  • Responds to staff and client needs
  • Explains expectations carefully
  • Listens and takes on board other’s views
  • Drives action
  • Delivers results

Do you have a business plan for private client work? Why do you need a business plan? 10 reasons why (

  • 67% No
  • 17 % Yes
  • 17% Yes – but we never look at it

Factors in the external environment that will impact our market(s):

  • Working from home and remote/hybrid working
  • Increased reliance on technology
  • Covid pandemic
  • Brexit – especially in Northern Ireland
  • Rise of China, decline of America
  • Loss of traditional High Street – online shopping
  • Expanding population
  • People moving away from cities
  • Greater mobility for clients and staff
  • Internet marketing and selling
  • Increased litigation

For a short video on PESTLE and external analysis 

The Law Society has done two PESTLE analyses for the legal sector

What professional marketing/business development support do you have?

  • 60% Inhouse marketing/BD team for the firm
  • 20% External marketing agencies
  • 20% None – we do it all ourselves

Which aspect of your business development needs most attention?

  • 50% Marketing (generating enquiries)
  • 33% Client relationship management – CRM and developing clients
  • 17% Referrer management

Do you have plans to introduce or develop new private client services?

  • 83% No
  • 17% Yes

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

  • 83% No
  • 17% Yes

Private client niche markets you are aware of:

  • Agriculture/rural
  • Charities and Not-for-profit
  • Elderly
  • Family offices
  • Foreign asset owners
  • High Net Worth (HNW)
  • Retirement planners
  • Surviving co-habitants
  • Urban to rural relocators
  • Ultra-High Net Worth (UHNW)
  • Vulnerable

What have you seen on pricing trends in the market?

  • Fees have stagnated – no one has increased prices for a few years
  • Those who are price sensitive are not our target clients
  • Litigation is often a grudge purchase
  • Have a frank and honest discussion at the outset rather than face push back at the end
  • Produce realistic estimates – using historic data for guidance – and include a contingency so that you never have to re-negotiate or exceed a quote

 There was a discussion here about tailoring different bundles of services and service levels to suit different markets and price points – but technology is needed to support lawyers responding to different service packages.

 How effective do you find social media?

  • 50% Good as part of an overall campaign
  • 50% Don’t know 

Which social media platforms does your firm use?

These links on SEO and social media marketing (SMM) may also be useful:

Key points from the session

The delegates selected the following key points and actions from the session:

  • Review and update the business plan with other partners
  • Develop a business plan and integrate with other departments at the firm
  • Set clear and measurable goals – and extend beyond fees and profits
  • Take time-out for business evaluation and strategy
  • Examine our leadership styles
  • Need to really understand our target markets
  • Create a market map and focus resources
  • Revise our marketing and business development plan
  • The importance of understanding the local market and reacting to it
  • The need to be able to adapt to change
  • Review our pricing strategies
  • Develop better content for our communications
  • Work on relationships with internal colleagues and building trust and referrals
  • Improve structured internal marketing programmes
  • Make the most of social media

The feedback from the session was overwhelming positive with comments including:

  • Thanks – Very thought-provoking
  • I have made good notes
  • Thank you for today, very informative and lots to put into action
  • Thank you – so much to think about after today
  • Thank you for some really interesting and thought-provoking content
  • Thanks for today – really, really important!

The next presentation of MBL’s “How to manage and grow your private client practice” will be on Tuesday 23rd March 2022 (My scheduled sessions for MBL). Thanks again to Lauren Brown of MBL for being a brilliant technical host and to all the delegates for their enthusiastic participation.

Links to previous private client department development sessions

Managing and growing your private client practice (January 2021) ( January 2021

Key takeaways from “How to manage and grow your private client practice” ( February 2020

Private client marketing – five thoughts from heads of department ( December 2017

Developing a private client practice -10 insights (2017) ( August 2017

developing a private client practice ( June 2016

Business development for lawyers MBL seminar ( July 2015

private client marketing – seven tips ( June 2015

Other articles about private client management and marketing

Learning from Lockdown – Positive outcomes from the Covid crisis ( January 2021

Marketing strategy for accountants and tax advisors ( May 2020

Marketing in a time of Coronavirus – Pragmatic ideas ( May 2020

Helping tax advisers sell their services – Be more detective ( January 2020

developing more private client work ( September 2019

Royds Withy King private client wealth proposition and new product ( April 2019

Private client marketing – digital and traditional methods ( November 2017

Marketing to the elderly for lawyers and accountants ( October 2015

Challenges when developing your private client practice (law firms) ( January 2015

Why should a tax adviser use social media? – Kim Tasso December 2013