To encourage lawyers not to limit their attention solely to changes in the law, but to pay more attention to their clients’ and prospects’ businesses, I’ve encouraged them to view themselves as specialized management consultants whose technical expertise just happens to be law. As management consultants, you’re primarily in the business of helping clients deal with change, whether positive or negative.

The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, has been quoted as saying, “Change is the only constant in life.” That’s certainly true of our clients’ and prospects’ business lives.

There’s plenty of change afoot

Even the most casual glance at the news paints a picture of incredible dynamism:

  • Shifting cultural norms and expectations of accountability

  • Disruptive business models

  • Innovations triggered by emerging technologies

  • Changes in the geopolitical landscape

  • Negotiations surrounding Brexit

  • Shifting customer preferences and demographics

  • Natural disasters

  • Record lows in unemployment, tightening labor markets and an escalating war for specialized talent

  • Immigration challenges

  • Cyber breaches on a massive scale

  • Big data analytics

Change is the only constant in life. -Heraclitus

These trends represent bad news for some, and opportunity for others. As in every game, there are winners and losers. Are your clients more likely to be the former or the latter? Are you informed enough about their business to offer a grounded assessment, and to be welcome in that conversation with them?

Clients say lawyers don’t understand their industry or business

Study after study reinforces that one of the main causes of client dissatisfaction--and departure--is not knowing their business, which can mean being perceived as not having sufficient context for your legal advice to maximize its value. It also means that you won’t be able to proactively approach them with fresh thinking that will differentiate you from all the other lawyers whose expertise and experience equals yours.

If your conversations are largely limited to discussions about legal work in progress, or trying to get them to reallocate their current legal spend in your favor, you’re part of the problem.

What do you read?

Every day, read something about the world economy, macro political- and social trends, and business news. Particularly, follow the news about the primary industries that fuel your practice.

In the Internet age, this couldn’t be easier. Anything you want to know is available via search, and you can easily set up alerts to follow industries, companies, and people. The other side of that coin is that there’s too much information available online, and it can be hard to curate it. What’s worthwhile, and what’s a time-waster?

The easy answer: Ask your clients what sources they rely on to remain informed.

  • Which blogs, newsletters, websites and other sources do they always read?

  • Why those? What’s the primary value of each?

  • Who do they follow on LinkedIn and Twitter (and actually click through the headlines or Tweets to read the content)?

  • Review their LinkedIn profile to see which groups they belong to, and ask which they actually pay attention to and contribute to vs. merely belong.

Indulge your intellectual curiosity

You may have a prodigious intellect, but are you also intellectually curious? The intellectually curious person has a deep and persistent desire to know. She asks and seeks answers to the “why” questions. And she doesn’t stop asking at a surface level, but instead asks probing questions in order to peel back layers of explanation to get at the foundational ideas concerning a particular issue.

Lawyers who have an insatiable drive for learning about industries, the people in them, their situation, problems, and successes, are more likely to bring innovative new strategies and ideas to their clients and prospects. These are the lawyers who – instead of sitting back and waiting for the next assignment – are more likely to approach their clients with thoughts on cutting-edge approaches to familiar problems and ways to stay ahead of competitors.

And that, as the surveys consistently show, is the path to client preference and loyalty.

Mike O’Horo

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