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Becoming a Trusted Advisor

Updated: Oct 5, 2023

July 2023





By Liza Vasquez CMC ICF and Jeffrey F. Silber CPA MBA CMC



What Does It Mean for a Lawyer to Be a Trusted Advisor?


If you can become a Trusted Advisor, you will have gained a significant advantage over other lawyers who would like to replace you; and you will obtain a multitude of benefits that you might not have thought about ahead of time.


What Is a Trusted Advisor?


A Trusted Advisor is given a seat at the client’s planning table instead of being just another external lawyer.


You will be considered a strategic partner whom the client sees as an asset that can help them realize their goals.


Most lawyers play some role in the success of their clients. A Trusted Advisor will be involved in the more strategic decisions that the client makes. In many cases, the external lawyer is called in to help the client carry out a decision that has already been taken.


As a Trusted Advisor


You get to discuss what the client is doing before the decisions have been made. You will participate in the thinking process about what the client wants and where they are planning to go.


Clients will see you are far more than a competent lawyer. They will see you as an insightful, intelligent person whose objective opinions on a wide range of subjects are valuable to them.


The client will want to hear your independent new ideas which will help them make informed and useful decisions beyond just your legal point of view.


How Do You Know If You Are a Trusted Advisor?


There are some distinct differences in the relationship with a client of the external lawyer versus the Trusted Advisor.


Most likely, when clients ask you solely for your legal advice and opinions, they do not consider you their Trusted Advisor.


Trusted Advisors are usually asked for their input on more general industry issues not just legal matters.


How early are you brought into discussions?


Are you brought in when the client is already accepting proposals to realize an ’already taken decision’ or are you brought in earlier when the decision has not yet been taken?


Being part of the planning and decision-making session(s) is a good sign that you are a Trusted Advisor. It demonstrates that your client’s interest in your input is far greater than just your legal services.


You may be able to tell based on how interconnected your law firm is with the client’s team. If you are only in contact with the in-house lawyer(s) it is not a good sign for your status as a Trusted Advisor.


However, if you are familiar with, and connected to, higher corporate officers and with the heads of actual operating departments, as well as those responsible for some strategic elements of your client’s business, you are likely considered as a Trusted Advisor.


Why You Should Want to Be a Trusted Advisor: The Benefits


When your clients are paying your bills and they repeatedly bring you back when they have other legal issues, then what is the need to play an Advisory role in their company?


Here are the eight main benefits to be gained when you become a Trusted Advisor, most of which you will not see without this specific growth in your relationship with the client:


1. Higher Guarantee of Client Retention


Instead of just being another law firm whose services are subject to competitive bidding whenever a legal matter arises, or searching for a law firm that has more specific expertise on the current issue, they will automatically turn to you and your law firm.


Gaining the trust of your clients gives them more incentive to retain you and your law firm, to manage all their future legal matters. The distinction is a great sign that you will be able to retain this client just as long as you do a good job in maintaining the relationship.


2. Less Pressure on Your Fees


As a Trusted Advisor, you are part of the client’s team. As a result, you will be the automatic go-to lawyer and law firm when they have a legal issue that needs to be dealt with. You will not be put in a competitive bidding situation.


As long as you are not abusive with your fees, the client will accept your invoices as appropriate to the services you are (or will) render.


3. Get First Wind of New Ideas


If your clients are heading toward some significant changes in their business plans, you will need to know about it to keep up the same high level of service in fulfilling their needs. As a Trusted Advisor, your clients are likely to run these new ideas by you long before they implement any contemplated action.


This will be enormously helpful when you draft a revised proposal of your services for the client’s changing and growing needs to match the nature of your relationship with the client.


4. Hear Concerns and Receive Feedback Quickly and Continuously


When issues arise, you can only fix them effectively and headed off any potential rift in the relationship with your client if you know about these possible problems early enough. These issues will be discussed in a calm, matter-of-fact non-accusatory manner with their Trusted Advisor.


Having attained the status as their Trusted Advisor will help ensure that you know both the good and the bad of what is going between your organizations long before an issue becomes a serious, relationship-threatening problem.


It might be mentioned as simply as By the way …..


And you will have a better opportunity to deal with, and resolve, an issue before it becomes an actual problem. It will make moving forward with your client much smoother.


5. Create Stronger Company-Level Relationships


When your connection with a company is only through their in-house counsel, it is common that a change in the client’s personnel or a reorganization might adversely affect your ability to continue as their outside counsel.


Relationships that are based solely on providing your services for their legal problems of the day can never be as strong as those that are companywide.


When your law firm and the client’s company are interconnected as strategic partners, the bond between your organizations is stronger; and can operate more smoothly in most cases, even in view of shifting personnel on the client’s staff.


6. Better Data Forecasting


When your client partners with you, they are generally more willing to share the data, research and statistics that they have collected on a more real-time basis. This is going to be important for you in several ways.


By providing you with this information, which is not generally available, your client will make you more knowledgeable about their industry. You will not only be able to give them a more informed opinion, but also, it will make you more of an industry expert.


Access to this research will allow you to forecast the direction that your client’s business is likely to take. Understanding your client’s position in their industry and forecasting for them will help you make more strategic decisions and earn even more trust as you go on.


By understanding where your client is headed, you can more easily predict the growth of your own law firm.


7. Your Law Firm Has More Control Over the Relationship (Cross-Selling)


As an external law firm, in the final analysis, your job is to follow the instructions of your clients. Hopefully their decisions will be subject to your advice and experience.


Be aware that clients will always do what they want, and they may not be willing to trust you enough to take your advice – no matter how infuriating that can male you.


But a Trusted Advisor can help steer the partnership between your organizations in a direction that will benefit both parties in the long-term. You can help advise your client on how to better utilize your firm’s services most effectively and this can more easily lead to cross-selling (which we call cross-servicing).


8. Efficiency in Business Deals


With a higher level of partnership, you can make things happen more efficiently for your clients.


How to Become a Trusted Advisor


We take it that by now you are convinced that the goal in your relationship with your clients is to become their Trusted Advisor. The Trusted Advisor relationship does not happen by accident nor by magic. There are very specific actions a lawyer can take to reach that goal. Let us discuss these eleven specific steps you can take.


1. Always Put the Interests of Your Clients First


Human nature is to worry about ourselves before anyone else. However, you must show your clients that you think about them and their well-being first and foremost. Sounds easy, right? It is incredibly difficult and requires real discipline.

A long time ago (1947), there was a movie (Miracle on 34th Street) in which various department stores were shocked to learn that their main competitor (Macy’s Department Store) was recommending them to their customers rather than their own store to make certain purchases.


As a result, Macy’s had an advantage in becoming a Trusted Advisor to its customers because of its honesty and it rapidly became the top department store in the country at the time. It should be the same for you and your law firm.


By putting your clients’ interests before your own and giving them the pros and cons of all the relevant alternatives as well as the best actions to take, you become a lawyer they can rely on, a lawyer whose opinions are grounded in their well-being, not in the promotion of your law firm. That trust is gold!


Develop the confidence to admit what you do not know. Admitting doubt or uncertainty is delicate but can be very powerful. It shows honesty and trustworthiness.


Consistently maintaining a high level of client interest, is what marks the kind of advisors that clients will trust for the long term. So always think of your client, their challenges, their priorities, their concerns, before your own.

2. Do Not Rush – Take It Slow


Becoming a Trusted Advisor will not happen overnight. It takes time. You must be patient and allow your clients to grow confident with you. This will be the first step. Only then will they be willing to make more of a commitment to becoming loyal clients of your law firm.


You build trust by doing what you say you will do. And that is how you create opportunities to deliver on your promises.


If you say you will deliver something at 9 am on Tuesday, then do it. When you commit to a telephone or Zoom call at 2 pm on Thursday, be on the line exactly at 2 pm, not three minutes late!


When you have international clients, be sure there is absolutely no confusion regarding time zones. If you miss a call because of misunderstanding what time it was scheduled, the client will think you are not capable of working on an international level.


These small things add up.


3. Listen Carefully to Your Clients – Active Listening


One of the hardest skills to develop is active listening. This means listening for both what is not being said by the client, as well as what is not actually being said.

What is their tone? What issues do they gloss over? What difficult topics need to be brought up as tactfully.

Though much of your work as an attorney is to talk and give advice, sometimes you might be required to just give your ear to your clients. This might be difficult because telling is what most lawyers do. Allow them to empty their hearts to you without interrupting them or diminishing their views.

Let us put a fine point on the idea of not interrupting your clients. Too often, lawyers believe they are so smart that it is not necessary for a client to complete the presentation of a problem. After one or two sentences, many lawyers think they know not only the problem the client is presenting but also the solution.

They interrupt the client with what they think is the solution without allowing the client to flesh out the problem and to include their feelings about the issue.

Interrupting a client is a cardinal sin. The client will not be impressed with your legal knowledge and/or your psychic ability to know what they are going to say before they say it. On the contrary, interrupting a client makes them feel devalued. Rather than getting closer to your client, interrupting them puts distance between the two of you.

It is a lawyer’s instinct to provide workable solutions when a client expresses a problem. In active listening, the listening itself may be all that the client requires. Do not automatically jump in with a proposed solution. Wait for the magic question: So, what do you think?

In addition, by listening you may find the client’s ideas are better than what you might have proposed.

Similarly, others might just need empathy and compassion. Whatever the case, just listen when that is what they need from you.

4. Ask Questions to Understand “Why”


After you have listened, there will come a time when you will be called upon to speak. Instead of pontificating as the all-wise, all-knowing lawyer, a much more penetrating response will be to ask more questions.


These questions will elicit more information from the client. And the very nature of your intelligent questions will demonstrate your mastery of the subject at hand.


When asked for advice in a difficult situation, a Trusted Advisor’s best response may be “An even better question.”


You must keep asking questions to understand why the client is asking what they do, and why they think that way. Find out what is behind the question. You can help them understand the context of their situation and possible routes out.


This is summed up in another of our favorite phrases: more value is provided by the Trusted Advisor through “problem definition” than through “problem solution.”


5. Give Options in a Non-Confrontational Way

Your role as a lawyer is to help your clients understand all aspects of both simple and complex issues so that they are aware of the consequences that each potential decision carries with it. It is for them to decide.

It is common for clients and their lawyers to disagree about what action to take. This lack of agreement has more than occasionally led to some very strong arguments, even shouting matches.

You will never become a Trusted Advisor if you have these types of heated discussions with your clients. This lack of agreement will make them feel you are not on the same team – that you and they do not see things the same way.

They will feel they have to question your advice every time there is a decision to be made. This will create a strong impediment in your quest to obtain the coveted role of Trusted Advisor.

When your experience clearly dictates that what the client wants to do is not just a wrong-minded approach, but could lead to a truly disastrous outcome, what should you do?

As mentioned previously, in the end, the client will always do what they want, and as a lawyer you should be taking your clients’ instructions. It is not your job to decide for them!

Instead of hardening your opposition to your client’s point of view, which might have an element of ego on your part, give the client an education about their options so they can decide.

Present all possible approaches to the problem that you and the client are proposing in an educational manner. Fully discuss the pros and cons of each possible resolution on the table. You can certainly go on the record with your recommendation if the client opts for a different approach, but let the client decide.

There are some key questions that you can use to ensure that despite differing points of view, you are on the same team. For example, you might say to the client:

You have proposed approach A, and in my experience taking this approach would likely result in X. However, my experience in similar situations leads me to propose approach B which I believe will have results Y. What other solutions do you see, if any?”

Now comes thekey question. “Now what shall we do?”

In this way you have gone on record by stating what you think is best. But because clients will always do what they want, you will act on their instructions. This will demonstrate that while you freely offer your experienced and enlightened opinions you are always on the client’s team doing what they want.

6. Deliver More Than is Expected

Becoming a trusted advisor is all about under-promising and over-delivering. Strive to exceed your clients’ expectations. This is a great way to build that all-important rapport. This means things like answering questions, helping with the implementation of proposed solutions, and giving helpful advice. This is even more impressive when you are not being paid to do so.


7. Communicate Well and Show Appreciation


Showing appreciation is one of the easiest steps in becoming a Trusted Advisor. People inside companies want to feel like they matter to their external lawyers, not like they are just a functionary who pays your invoices. Simple actions like a friendly phone call to check in, or a meeting face-to-face to see if they have any additional needs can go a long way in gaining and keeping trust.


8. Bottom Line


Do not expect a maturing relationship with your clients to be reflected in your increased billings in the short term. It will not always be an easy journey, but becoming a Trusted Advisor will always be worth it in the long run. Remember, to always put your clients’ interest first at all costs, listen carefully, over-deliver, show appreciation, and take your time. Building up these relationships will pay for themselves eventually. You will enjoy massive returns on your investment before you know it.


9. Get Closer to Your Clients


Trust develops through spending time together. That means phone communication is better than email, and face-to-face is better than both of those two things. It is always better to err on the side of “over-communication” – more communication is better than less.


Let them know you are working on the document they asked you to write and tell them when you think you will be able to deliver it. Do not wait to “surprise” your client or assume they have powers of telepathy to understand what you are thinking and doing.


10. Be a Thought Leader – Increase Your Visibility


Your clients will believe that their Trusted Advisor is a cut above the rest and that they have someone special on their team. Make yourself an industry leader by frequently publishing articles in LinkedIn, by being a speaker in as many industrial events as you can, by being active in professional organizations, by being quoted and interviewed in the press and on social media platforms, by appearing in webinars, by having some of your specialized videos appear on YouTube and, by appearing on Podcasts on a regular basis.


11. Do Not forget the Basics of Marketing to Current Clients

Step One: Strengthen and Improve Your Relationship with Your Clients


The Emotional Bank Account (EBA) and the idea of continuously making deposits in someone’s Emotional Bank Account as a way of strengthening the relationship. Contact the client with telephone calls for no specific reason. Wish them a Happy Birthday, tell them to have a great weekend, and so on. Friendly, non-legal contacts.


Step Two: Client Expect Quality Work and Excellent Service


The best you can do as an attorney is also the bare minimum – 1) high quality legal work, 2) documents and results delivered on time, 3) with no unpleasant surprises and 4) done for a fair and equitable fee. Look at your law firm objectively – do you have a problem with any of these four areas?


Step Three: Going Beyond Expectations - Value Added


You have a lot of competitors who could do as good a job as you do regarding specific legal matters. To distinguish yourself, you must bring something additional to the table. For example, give Educational Seminars to the client’s operating staff, such as labor issues to plant managers.


Step Four: Put Feedback into Action


Improve communication. conduct client satisfaction surveys at year end; or at the end of an engagement have lunch with your clients and ask: “What can we do better?” One of the most impressive things you can do with your clients is to strive to continually improve your service.


Step Five: Anticipate Needs and Help Clients Avoid Problems.


Act, do not react! Be Proactive! Go out of your way by answering your client’s questions before they are asked. After all, you are their lawyer and at least in theory, you have been through this situation many times, the situation that your client is experiencing now perhaps for the first time.


Step Six: Bring Your Fresh Ideas to the Table

If you have an idea that is going to help the transaction, or the efficiency of the deal, or produce a better financial result for the client, your client will want to hear it. Become a value-added lawyer.


Step Seven: Know Your Clients’ Businesses and Make Introductions Wherever You See Synergy


Become an expert in your client/s industry by taking an active part in industry organizations. You will meet many people in the same industry as your client and you should make introductions between clients (or between clients and other friends of yours) where you can benefit from synergy.


Step Eight: Realistic Commitments


It is always better to under-promise and over-deliver. That is:

• Time - Be realistic about when you think you can accomplish the task for the client.

• Results - Do not promise unrealistic results that you will not be able to accomplish.

• Fees - Do not intentionally underestimate your fees in order to obtain a new client.


Step Nine: Prioritize the Issues


The business of your clients is business itself. What you see as a legal issue to them is just another business problem that needs to be solved. Therefore, prioritize the issues as you see them and present only those issues that the client needs to be aware of and for which you need their instructions.


Step Ten: Know How and When to Say “No”


Clients will appreciate your referring them to your partner or to another law firm (remember the Macy’s example cited earlier), when an issue requires a lawyer who has a specific expertise that is not in your core skill set.


Step Eleven: Keep Client Matters Updated in Your Files

If you are away and cannot be reached, the files should speak for themselves so that anyone can open them and give the client a status report as to where the matter stands.


How to Become a Trusted Advisor


We take it that by now you are convinced that the goal in your relationship with your clients is to become their Trusted Advisor. The Trusted Advisor relationship does not happen by accident nor by magic. There are very specific actions a lawyer can take to reach that goal. Let us discuss these eleven specific steps you can take.


12. Always Put the Interests of Your Clients First


Human nature is to worry about ourselves before anyone else. However, you must show your clients that you think about them and their well-being first and foremost. Sounds easy, right? It is incredibly difficult and requires real discipline.

A long time ago (1947), there was a movie (Miracle on 34th Street) in which various department stores were shocked to learn that their main competitor (Macy’s Department Store) was recommending them to their customers rather than their own store to make certain purchases.


As a result, Macy’s had an advantage in becoming a Trusted Advisor to its customers because of its honesty and it rapidly became the top department store in the country at the time. It should be the same for you and your law firm.


By putting your clients’ interests before your own and giving them the pros and cons of all the relevant alternatives as well as the best actions to take, you become a lawyer they can rely on, a lawyer whose opinions are grounded in their well-being, not in the promotion of your law firm. That trust is gold!


Develop the confidence to admit what you do not know. Admitting doubt or uncertainty is delicate but can be very powerful. It shows honesty and trustworthiness.


Consistently maintaining a high level of client interest, is what marks the kind of advisors that clients will trust for the long term. So always think of your client, their challenges, their priorities, their concerns, before your own.

13. Do Not Rush – Take It Slow


Becoming a Trusted Advisor will not happen overnight. It takes time. You must be patient and allow your clients to grow confident with you. This will be the first step. Only then will they be willing to make more of a commitment to becoming loyal clients of your law firm.


You build trust by doing what you say you will do. And that is how you create opportunities to deliver on your promises.


If you say you will deliver something at 9 am on Tuesday, then do it. When you commit to a telephone or Zoom call at 2 pm on Thursday, be on the line exactly at 2 pm, not three minutes late!


When you have international clients, be sure there is absolutely no confusion regarding time zones. If you miss a call because of misunderstanding what time it was scheduled, the client will think you are not capable of working on an international level.


These small things add up.


14. Listen Carefully to Your Clients – Active Listening


One of the hardest skills to develop is active listening. This means listening for both what is not being said by the client, as well as what is not actually being said.

What is their tone? What issues do they gloss over? What difficult topics need to be brought up as tactfully.

Though much of your work as an attorney is to talk and give advice, sometimes you might be required to just give your ear to your clients. This might be difficult because telling is what most lawyers do. Allow them to empty their hearts to you without interrupting them or diminishing their views.

Let us put a fine point on the idea of not interrupting your clients. Too often, lawyers believe they are so smart that it is not necessary for a client to complete the presentation of a problem. After one or two sentences, many lawyers think they know not only the problem the client is presenting but also the solution.

They interrupt the client with what they think is the solution without allowing the client to flesh out the problem and to include their feelings about the issue.

Interrupting a client is a cardinal sin. The client will not be impressed with your legal knowledge and/or your psychic ability to know what they are going to say before they say it. On the contrary, interrupting a client makes them feel devalued. Rather than getting closer to your client, interrupting them puts distance between the two of you.

It is a lawyer’s instinct to provide workable solutions when a client expresses a problem. In active listening, the listening itself may be all that the client requires. Do not automatically jump in with a proposed solution. Wait for the magic question: So, what do you think?

In addition, by listening you may find the client’s ideas are better than what you might have proposed.

Similarly, others might just need empathy and compassion. Whatever the case, just listen when that is what they need from you.

15. Ask Questions to Understand “Why”


After you have listened, there will come a time when you will be called upon to speak. Instead of pontificating as the all-wise, all-knowing lawyer, a much more penetrating response will be to ask more questions.


These questions will elicit more information from the client. And the very nature of your intelligent questions will demonstrate your mastery of the subject at hand.


When asked for advice in a difficult situation, a Trusted Advisor’s best response may be “An even better question.”


You must keep asking questions to understand why the client is asking what they do, and why they think that way. Find out what is behind the question. You can help them understand the context of their situation and possible routes out.


This is summed up in another of our favorite phrases: more value is provided by the Trusted Advisor through “problem definition” than through “problem solution.”


16. Give Options in a Non-Confrontational Way

Your role as a lawyer is to help your clients understand all aspects of both simple and complex issues so that they are aware of the consequences that each potential decision carries with it. It is for them to decide.

It is common for clients and their lawyers to disagree about what action to take. This lack of agreement has more than occasionally led to some very strong arguments, even shouting matches.

You will never become a Trusted Advisor if you have these types of heated discussions with your clients. This lack of agreement will make them feel you are not on the same team – that you and they do not see things the same way.

They will feel they have to question your advice every time there is a decision to be made. This will create a strong impediment in your quest to obtain the coveted role of Trusted Advisor.

When your experience clearly dictates that what the client wants to do is not just a wrong-minded approach, but could lead to a truly disastrous outcome, what should you do?

As mentioned previously, in the end, the client will always do what they want, and as a lawyer you should be taking your clients’ instructions. It is not your job to decide for them!

Instead of hardening your opposition to your client’s point of view, which might have an element of ego on your part, give the client an education about their options so they can decide.

Present all possible approaches to the problem that you and the client are proposing in an educational manner. Fully discuss the pros and cons of each possible resolution on the table. You can certainly go on the record with your recommendation if the client opts for a different approach, but let the client decide.

There are some key questions that you can use to ensure that despite differing points of view, you are on the same team. For example, you might say to the client:

You have proposed approach A, and in my experience taking this approach would likely result in X. However, my experience in similar situations leads me to propose approach B which I believe will have results Y. What other solutions do you see, if any?”

Now comes thekey question. “Now what shall we do?”

In this way you have gone on record by stating what you think is best. But because clients will always do what they want, you will act on their instructions. This will demonstrate that while you freely offer your experienced and enlightened opinions you are always on the client’s team doing what they want.

17. Deliver More Than is Expected

Becoming a trusted advisor is all about under-promising and over-delivering. Strive to exceed your clients’ expectations. This is a great way to build that all-important rapport. This means things like answering questions, helping with the implementation of proposed solutions, and giving helpful advice. This is even more impressive when you are not being paid to do so.


18. Communicate Well and Show Appreciation


Showing appreciation is one of the easiest steps in becoming a Trusted Advisor. People inside companies want to feel like they matter to their external lawyers, not like they are just a functionary who pays your invoices. Simple actions like a friendly phone call to check in, or a meeting face-to-face to see if they have any additional needs can go a long way in gaining and keeping trust.


19. Bottom Line


Do not expect a maturing relationship with your clients to be reflected in your increased billings in the short term. It will not always be an easy journey, but becoming a Trusted Advisor will always be worth it in the long run. Remember, to always put your clients’ interest first at all costs, listen carefully, over-deliver, show appreciation, and take your time. Building up these relationships will pay for themselves eventually. You will enjoy massive returns on your investment before you know it.


20. Get Closer to Your Clients


Trust develops through spending time together. That means phone communication is better than email, and face-to-face is better than both of those two things. It is always better to err on the side of “over-communication” – more communication is better than less.


Let them know you are working on the document they asked you to write and tell them when you think you will be able to deliver it. Do not wait to “surprise” your client or assume they have powers of telepathy to understand what you are thinking and doing.


21. Be a Thought Leader – Increase Your Visibility


Your clients will believe that their Trusted Advisor is a cut above the rest and that they have someone special on their team. Make yourself an industry leader by frequently publishing articles in LinkedIn, by being a speaker in as many industrial events as you can, by being active in professional organizations, by being quoted and interviewed in the press and on social media platforms, by appearing in webinars, by having some of your specialized videos appear on YouTube and, by appearing on Podcasts on a regular basis.


22. Do Not forget the Basics of Marketing to Current Clients

Step One: Strengthen and Improve Your Relationship with Your Clients


The Emotional Bank Account (EBA) and the idea of continuously making deposits in someone’s Emotional Bank Account as a way of strengthening the relationship. Contact the client with telephone calls for no specific reason. Wish them a Happy Birthday, tell them to have a great weekend, and so on. Friendly, non-legal contacts.


Step Two: Client Expect Quality Work and Excellent Service


The best you can do as an attorney is also the bare minimum – 1) high quality legal work, 2) documents and results delivered on time, 3) with no unpleasant surprises and 4) done for a fair and equitable fee. Look at your law firm objectively – do you have a problem with any of these four areas?


Step Three: Going Beyond Expectations - Value Added


You have a lot of competitors who could do as good a job as you do regarding specific legal matters. To distinguish yourself, you must bring something additional to the table. For example, give Educational Seminars to the client’s operating staff, such as labor issues to plant managers.


Step Four: Put Feedback into Action


Improve communication. conduct client satisfaction surveys at year end; or at the end of an engagement have lunch with your clients and ask: “What can we do better?” One of the most impressive things you can do with your clients is to strive to continually improve your service.


Step Five: Anticipate Needs and Help Clients Avoid Problems.


Act, do not react! Be Proactive! Go out of your way by answering your client’s questions before they are asked. After all, you are their lawyer and at least in theory, you have been through this situation many times, the situation that your client is experiencing now perhaps for the first time.


Step Six: Bring Your Fresh Ideas to the Table

If you have an idea that is going to help the transaction, or the efficiency of the deal, or produce a better financial result for the client, your client will want to hear it. Become a value-added lawyer.


Step Seven: Know Your Clients’ Businesses and Make Introductions Wherever You See Synergy


Become an expert in your client/s industry by taking an active part in industry organizations. You will meet many people in the same industry as your client and you should make introductions between clients (or between clients and other friends of yours) where you can benefit from synergy.


Step Eight: Realistic Commitments


It is always better to under-promise and over-deliver. That is:

• Time - Be realistic about when you think you can accomplish the task for the client.

• Results - Do not promise unrealistic results that you will not be able to accomplish.

• Fees - Do not intentionally underestimate your fees in order to obtain a new client.


Step Nine: Prioritize the Issues


The business of your clients is business itself. What you see as a legal issue to them is just another business problem that needs to be solved. Therefore, prioritize the issues as you see them and present only those issues that the client needs to be aware of and for which you need their instructions.


Step Ten: Know How and When to Say “No”


Clients will appreciate your referring them to your partner or to another law firm (remember the Macy’s example cited earlier), when an issue requires a lawyer who has a specific expertise that is not in your core skill set.


Step Eleven: Keep Client Matters Updated in Your Files

If you are away and cannot be reached, the files should speak for themselves so that anyone can open them and give the client a status report as to where the matter stands.


Barriers to Becoming a Trusted Advisor


In personal or business interactions, Trust is a critical virtue. It may take years to build trust, but it takes only a few seconds to destroy it. That said, if you have hopes of ever becoming a Trusted Advisor, you need to be mindful of some things which can jeopardize the development of trust.


Think about what might be standing in the way of becoming a Trusted Advisor to your clients. Not all clients are the same, so the obstacles you may face with some of your clients may not be predictable based on your prior experiences with other clients.


With that said, many clients are looking for similar qualities in their Advisor, which will make certain obstacles more universally common to clients in similar circumstances.


Below are five things you should consider practicing in order to build and maintain trust with your clients.


1. Focusing More on Your Own Goals and Needs Instead of Those of Your Clients


This is the top mistake lawyers make when they want to secure a strategic relationship with their clients. Many lawyers are excellent at keeping their own goals in sight and making moves that only benefit themselves regardless of whether it benefits your client.


But if you want to become a Trusted Advisor, you will need to adjust your focus to what is most important to your clients.


Remember that by helping your clients reach their goals you are also moving toward your own goal of becoming a Trusted Advisor.


You cannot neglect what is beneficial to your own law firm, while at the same time, you will need to find mutual benefits instead of concentrating too heavily on what is only good for your law firm.


2. Not Investing Enough Time and Resources into the Relationship


You will never become a Trusted Advisor to your clients if you are not willing to be continuously engaged with them. Clients are not interested in relative strangers giving them advice on how to proceed. Instead, you will need to invest time and resources into building Trust into the relationship.


Clients who see their lawyers putting in abnormal amounts of effort to help accomplish their goals are far more likely to pay attention to that lawyer in the future.


Conversely, not investing enough in the relationship makes it difficult to ever grow it into a strategic partnership. You must be willing to risk some of your time and resources.


3. Emphasizing Bills Over Service


Increasing your billings is not the only goal in a strategic partnership with your clients. It is not a traditional model of billing techniques. Therefore, it needs a more delicate balance between Billing and Client Management.


Try to show your clients how much they need a wider range of your services. This will be far more effective. Pressuring clients in a cross-selling approach to increasing your billings is most often counterproductive and will not have a positive impact in the long term on your relationship.


4. Failing to Demonstrate Your Industry Expertise


Clients do not want to take advice from amateurs. You must be able to demonstrate your expertise in the client’s industry if you want to become their Trusted Advisor. It is important to show that you have a solid grasp on industry-specific strategies, not just mastery of the technical elements of their products and services.


5. Not Knowing the Players in Your Client’s Industry


It will be important for you to be active in the congresses, conferences, professional and industrial organizations, and other industry networking opportunities in your client’s industry. Not only is this a good way to obtain more clients, but you will be able to show your client that you are a “player” in their industry.


By means of your own networking efforts, you might even be able to introduce your client to other people in their own industry. This would be a way to include your client in our own networking activities.



Conclusions


Conclusion One - Continuous Relationship Management Is the Best Trust-Building Approach


Continuous relationship management works well as a strategy for becoming a Trusted Advisor. This brings lawyers and their clients together into a long-term and more specialized partnership that benefits both parties.


You lend your expertise to the client, and they provide you with better contracts, more cross-selling opportunities, more referrals to their friends and colleagues as potential clients, and long-term retention of your services.


The road that leads to being a Trusted Advisor is not a journey that cannot be undertaken half-heartedly. If you want and expect good results, you need to put an appropriate level of time and resources into your own team and your client’s organization to get things done right.


More often than not, half-hearted efforts will cause you to not attain the status of Trusted Advisor. To succeed, you must implement as many of the techniques, strategies, and approaches as we have described above, so that you can bring more positive attributes to the table than the average law firm which would like to steal your clients away from you.


Focus on the key clients in your portfolio with which you want to succeed. Treat them with high priority status. Put extra team members into servicing those clients to make sure you are communicating and networking well with them as often as possible.


Most important of all, is the focus on your client’s goals. This does not mean that you need to solve all their problems.


You will need to communicate properly with your clients to determine what their goals are. Then, immediately begin to focus on what needs to be done to create a strong partnership between your law firm and the client.


This means you need to make sure your law firm is helping your clients reach their goals using your firm’s services, experience, and expertise. Sometimes this may mean helping your clients learn how to properly use the services you can provide for their needs. Of course, this must be done without the pressure to increase billings as mentioned earlier.


Focus on your client’s significant issues rather than looking for which of your client’s goals match your skill set and your current service-offering. Find out what their goals are on an organizational level, both short and long term if possible.


This will put you in a much better position to offer advice and services, which is what will promote a healthy strategic partnership.


The effort it takes to become a Trusted Advisory frightens away many lawyers who are not willing to make the deep level of commitment to the process that is required. For those who are willing to put in the effort, the benefits are enormous.


Conclusion Two - The Path to Becoming a Trusted Advisor


Implementing as much as possible of what we have discussed will give you an excellent chance of becoming a Trusted Advisor to many of your clients over time.


Be aware that there is no guaranteed method that will work for everyone, but some strategies work better than others. It is important to think of this as a long-term strategy as you will not likely become a Trusted Advisor overnight or even within a few months.


In some cases, it can take many months or even years. The most effective way to work towards attaining the role of Trusted Advisor is to build Trust through well-thought-out strategies.


Let us emphasize that long-term approaches that prioritize your clients interests over your short-term desire to increase your billings, will yield better results than other strategies you may have tried in the past.


Good luck in your journey to become a Trusted Advisor!


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The partners of Silber, Vasquez & Associates are available to review your Marketing Plan with you and/or help design a specific marketing coaching for you. Feel free to contact us at:

Good luck.



Liza Vasquez and Jeffrey Silber



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