That said, the glory and laurels, financial or otherwise, generally accrue to that select group of lawyers who bring in the business – the rainmakers – with less recognition or prestige for those who patiently nurture deeper client relationships over the long term.  These are the individuals who provide excellent counsel every day, introduce clients to other partners, practice areas and offices, invest the time to really understand their client’s business and deliver added value that is important to their clients.

Why is this so? – and why should it ever be thus?

The answer as to why this is so is fairly obvious.  Winning new clients is exciting and newsworthy.  The angst and adrenaline surrounding a big pitch often ripple through the entire firm.  Many participate in the pitch – virtually all are aware the pitch is going on.  Nurturing a client is, simply, less dramatic; seemingly less “life and death.”  Generally, beyond those who work directly on the client’s business, few are aware of what’s actually going on with that client.

So, while it is undeniable that there will never be as much glory in maintaining clients as winning them – firms should take steps to meaningfully reward and recognize those who do build solid, profitable, long-term relationships with key clients.  If not, firms are missing a key strategic opportunity.  And, these steps should be institutionalized – not ad hoc.

What form might these steps take?

Firms have available a substantial arsenal of mechanisms and processes that serve to induce, incent, reward and recognize desired outcomes and activities.  Key is to have a sub-set of these that are intended specifically for successful client management.  These include inducements that are either “soft” or “hard” – qualitative or quantitative.  In the “soft” area are, for example, awards – given out quarterly – with the “year’s best of” handed out at the awards ceremony which is often a part of firms’ annual retreats or partners’ meetings.

Effective client management should be woven into all discussions about firmwide strategies and goals, including part of the agenda of every firm-wide and practice group meeting – with accomplishments, learning and best practices identified and discussed.  Further, ensure that new, positive developments are regularly featured in internal communications.  In the quantitative arena, well, nothing sends a firmwide message as loudly as money.  Meaningfully recognizing excellent client stewardship in compensation speaks volumes.

The point is, look how your firm currently rewards new business or other positive outcomes and apply these to those who develop and nurture stable, expanding client relationships.  In this new world order with stagnant to declining demand,  where a market-share battle has replaced nearly unfettered growth your current clients are both more valuable and vulnerable than ever before.

Understand this and act on it.

—Janet Stanton

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