The first article in the series explained what commercial awareness is, the important components of it, and how they all work together to create this highly sought-after commercial attitude of mind. This next article in the series will explain commercial awareness in the context of how lawyers and law firms implement it into their business practice in order to make it more effective. It will explain the different techniques that lawyers use in order to communicate more effectively with clients in a language that they understand under commercial pressure. Developing techniques is all part of commercial awareness for a lawyer and how they use these techniques is essential when it comes to being a solid competitor in today’s intense 21st century industry.
How do lawyers use commercial awareness?
The first aspect of commercial awareness which a lawyer must achieve in order to be a successful competitor is the ability to understand their clients. This involves networking in order to gain new clients. It also involves communicating with clients in a language they understand, getting straight to the point of the specific services that client requires, and ultimately, asking the client questions and doing what the client wants.
Networking is a very important part of business development and is therefore, an important ability for lawyers to grasp. Networking is a word used to describe getting out into the market and building a range of business relationships – it begins as an attitude of mind. David Maister, expert on business management practices, sees ‘faith, trust and confidence’ as qualities being at the heart of the successful professional/client relationship and it also embraces friendship and possibly having a shared outlook. Therefore, it follows that if a lawyer gets out there and meets new people or like-minded individuals and forms friendships, business, and therefore obtain new clients, it will be an indirect result of this attitude of mind. Multipliers can also introduce new clients as they endorse a lawyer’s legal services and tell prospective clients how good that lawyer is. Some of the best new business comes from clients who are recommended a lawyer’s services from another professional in a different field – this leads to business development and the widening of a lawyer’s client base, hence, more business.
Advising and writing to clients
Once a lawyer has built up their client base, the next thing to master is how to communicate with these clients and get straight to the point of the legal services which they require. A lot of advice to clients in a 21st century law firm is done in writing or via email. The first thing for a lawyer to aim to do when he/she is giving written advice is to write the way they speak – this means using simple words, using short sentences, using the active instead of the passive, and avoiding the use of technical language. Secondly, a lawyer should try to write in a style whereby the conclusion is put first in the piece of writing. This provides the client with the ability to stop reading whenever they like and they know what the lawyer’s point is – much like the way in which a newspaper article is written. Clients do not have time to read long letters of advice full of seemingly complicated information, and therefore, lawyers should try to make this as easy for them as possible.
An additional technique lawyers can use in their written advice to hold the client’s attention is by using bold headings and tinted boxes containing particularly important information – using visuals. Images make a much bigger impression to a reader than words and can provide an interesting layout and structure. Lastly, a lawyer should aim to add a personal touch to their written advice. This allows the process of building a stable relationship with a client to become increasingly easier and the lawyer can become that client’s ‘trusted advisor’ as David Maister once said. Writing in a personal way allows a lawyer to gain the client’s interest and trust.
However, all of these techniques on how a lawyer can give written advice are rendered irrelevant if it is not what the client wants. Every client is different, and it follows that different clients want different things – a lawyer must do what their client wants.
Doing what the client wants
Before doing any piece of work for a client a lawyer needs to find out what the client is going to use it for, who else might be involved, what their requirements are and the overall commercial context i.e. how it is meant to get the client to where they want to be. In order to establish all of this information, a lawyer must ask questions. Once the lawyer has found out the answer to all of these questions, they must provide the client with the work or advice they specifically requested. The key to doing this to a client’s satisfaction is to under-promise and over-deliver – this allows a lawyer to take their time over a piece of requested work and meet the deadline which was promised to the client at the same time. It is better to do this rather than to under-deliver and over-promise.
Another way for a lawyer to do what their client wants is to stay in touch with clients after services have been provided and work has been completed – this shows that a lawyer is interested in their client and makes the client feel special. This feeling will encourage a client to use that lawyer’s services again and/or recommend the lawyer to friends or other businesses, which leads to increased business and profits for the lawyer.
USPs and strategies
The second aspect of commercial awareness which a lawyer must achieve is to have a unique selling point (USP) and a strategy in order to set them aside from other lawyers in other law firms. In addition to this, a lawyer must also understand their clients’ USPs and strategies in order to tailor their work for that specific client’s needs. Take the Body Shop for example – it’s strategy was to create a brand based on environmental values and this is what makes it different. This is their USP. It makes them stand out in the market.
In addition to a lawyer having their own strategy and USP, they must identify their clients’ strategies and USPs. This allows a lawyer to contextualise their service in order to provide that client with exactly what they want – the lawyer can shape their service in order to maximise its benefit to the client. The best way to go about finding this out is by asking the client after the lawyer has done their background research (on the client’s website, press coverage, annual report etc). Asking a client about their strategy is a good way to build a relationship with them and find out exactly what they want at the same time. Lawyers should always keep up to date with their clients, past and present, by doing their background research and continuing communication with clients even after business has ceased – this allows a lawyer to remain competitive in our changing 21st century business climate.
Every law firm is constantly striving to become and remain a competitor. It is therefore vital that lawyers develop and implement their commercial awareness into their business practice in the form of effective business techniques in order to remain competitive. It is the key to how businesses work, grow, expand and generate profit. This is why commercial awareness is so important for a modern day lawyer to utilise, and is becoming all the more important as we speak.