How can lawyers generate more work from their current clients?

When we looked at business development in its broadest sense last month, I suggested the best place to start any business development initiative is with the people you already know, your clients and closest professional contacts.

Although it is often put to one side in favour of new client acquisition (which is all too often perceived as being sexier and more exciting), client development is the quickest, easiest and most cost-effective route to new work. You already have the clients (or contacts), you know what they need, how they like to work and, by extension, what else you could be doing for them.

Moreover, they already like you, trust you and are used to paying you!

And even if your efforts don’t generate new instructions per se, one shouldn’t ignore the extended benefits of getting closer to your clients:

  • Can your clients introduce you to new prospective clients?

  • Can your clients tell you about the right events to attend, the right industry groups to join, and the right publications to write for?

  • Can your clients give you the inside track on the latest developments in their local area, specialist area or sector?

All you need now is to have a plan and in this month’s column I’d like to look at how you can create more effective client development plans. But before I do, you’ll notice I stick assiduously to the term client development, not client management or CRM. This is because I vehemently believe development means growth and growth must be every ambitious lawyer’s number one BD priority.

How do lawyers create effective client development plans?

The start point is to know which relationships you want to develop. Take a piece of paper and a pen and write down:

  1. The existing clients you want to focus on.

  2. The ‘lapsed’ clients (i.e. those you have done work for in the past and would like to do more for in the future) you want to reconnect with.

Now you need to work out how to structure your time.

I’d always suggest you assign your time according to the strength of the opportunity and that means following the order we’ve listed them out above.

With respect to each of these 2 groups, we’d suggest the following start points:

1. Existing clients


Commit to seeing each quarterly in addition to calls and emails regarding live matters. Initially you might think this is too much but so much can crop up in a short space of time.

Moreover, remember your client isn’t too busy for these meetings. They will be of genuine value to the client as they will benefit from your wider professional, sector, and commercial perspectives – and they know that!

The social/formal mix

Alternate these meetings between the formal (visits to their office, visits to your office, reviews, attendance at their internal/board meetings etc.) and the social (lunch, dinner, drinks, sporting events, invitations to relevant industry events).

This mix allows you to build up both your technical credentials and cement the personal element of your working relationship. These are the two factors involved in every purchasing decision involving professional services.

Have an agenda

When you organise the formal meetings, have an agenda and share this before the event. This will give both you and the client an opportunity to prepare properly.

It’s incredible how many additional (and potentially work-winning) questions will crop up during your prep.

Set objectives

Before any meeting (social or formal) set yourself 2 objectives so you know exactly what you need to get from the meeting. This gives you something concrete to work the conversation towards and again will maximise the likelihood the time you have invested in the meeting will yield the desired results.

This is important because once you get talking, your conversation can move all over the place and it’s easy to lose track of what you needed to achieve. Setting objectives makes sure you can pull the conversation back to the key points.

Stay visible

It’s also important to stay visible between your scheduled development meetings and make sure your clients know you are on hand and easy to access whenever questions crop up.

Here are some easy wins when it comes to staying visible:

  • When you know a conversation will be better than an email chain, invite the client to join you on a phone or, better still, a video call.

  • When you see snippets in the trade press that are relevant to their local area, business, sector, or area of technology, send the link over by email.

  • Like and share their posts on LinkedIn so they can see you’re taking an interest in their wider business.

2. Lapsed clients

The first step with lapsed clients is to have a good reason to reconnect. To do this you need to have:

A reason for getting in touch

As your email or phone call will come out of the blue, you need to have a reason for getting in touch. It may that you:

Saw a recent LinkedIn post

  • Saw them/their business in the press

  • Were discussing something with another client that may be of interest to them

  • Had a question you thought they may be able to answer

In fact, it can be anything else that explains why you’ve got in touch at that particular time.

A suggested follow up step

Once you’ve taken the time to get in touch, don’t leave it by saying “and we must catch up at some point”. Give them a concrete option (preferably based on how they prefer to meet whether that’s for coffee, drinks, lunch or breakfast) and suggest a few dates that might work.

Suggesting dates is a proven way of garnering a response. Instead of leaving things open-ended people have to make a choice or suggest an option that works better for them.

Have the confidence to play it by ear

If your meeting goes well, you can set up a follow-up meeting to discuss something that cropped up during your conversation.

If it led to you being told they have a lawyer at the moment that they’re happy with, make sure you diarise a follow up in 6 months’ time and send over any relevant links to relevant articles you’ve written or seen in the press and occasionally engage with them on LinkedIn to stay visible.

Make clients aware of everything you do

People tend to pigeonhole their advisers. If you look after their commercial contracts or their family’s wealth planning arrangements, that is what your clients will associate you with and they could well have several other advisers all doing one job for them.

Unless you keep updating them on the other types of work you/your team/your firm does, they may never realise you could be doing a whole lot more.

Many lawyers think clients will atomically check out their websites and work their way through all the practice areas for themselves. They won’t!

It’s your job to drop these other options into the conversation and, if required, make the necessary introductions to your clients.

Please, please, please don’t think of this as being ‘salesy’. It will automatically make your clients’ lives easier if they are accessing everything they need from one source …

… and the more ties there are between you and your client, the stronger your relationship will be.

Concentrate on adding value to every client relationship

However, when it comes to developing your client relationships, the one thing I’d urge you to concentrate on during every interaction is adding value. Added value is the cement that holds a relationship together. It is what clients see, feel, touch, and enjoy.

It’s what will encourage them to introduce you to their personal and professional networks (thereby creating even more new opportunities with no extra investment of time and budget on your part).

And from a more practical perspective, it’s what will protect and lubricate your cash flow. There’s no problem with bills being paid when people are enjoying genuine value for money.

Added value is not a newsletter or an invitation to your Christmas drinks. Real added value is getting to know your clients and their businesses and families so you can work out exactly what they need from you and how best to deliver that.

It may be they are shorthanded in the office and would benefit from a secondment.

It may be that they are looking to open in a new location and would benefit from introductions to other businesspeople in that area.

It may be that they’re looking to launch a new service and would benefit from introductions to potential buyers in your network.

It may be that you are looking to launch a new product that would complement the services you already provide and make their working lives that little bit easier.

As a first step I’d suggest listing out your major clients and work out one thing you could do that would add genuine value to each relationship and use that as your reason to get in touch and organise the first of your regular catch-ups.