I often think about how my role as a legal marketer draws a lot of similarities to the role of a lawyer. Legal marketers are driven by clients, are relied upon for our unique expertise, and our success is tied to positive outcomes and results. But, perhaps the most significant similarity is the simple idea that if you can build strong and trusted relationships with your clients, it can mean the difference between an ordinary career and one that truly thrives.
I canvassed some of my colleagues about how they perceived relationship building in our industry and how, in practice, they manage to build and maintain their own professional relationships.
Effective communication, adaptability, and practicing what you preach
Lawyers and legal marketers are always communicating – whether it’s running meetings, delivering presentations, or writing proposals. But, for the most part, the audience is continuously shifting. As a legal marketer for example, you might be brainstorming with your Diversity & Inclusion committee in the morning, coaching a partner on a business development plan over lunch, and then participating in a client feedback session in the afternoon. There are potentially dozens of opportunities, throughout any given day, to make an impact and build a connection.
Nicole Miles, Canada Director of Client Development and Profile at Dentons Canada LLP, notes that, “Building relationships and learning to work effectively with people is paramount in our business. That includes understanding the generational differences – which is something I am focused on. Our client profiles are changing (internally and externally) and we need to understand preferences and flex our approach. For example, some prefer to start conversations on a personal level and then move to business – others prefer to dive right into a project. We need to be prepared to adjust our approach to meet our clients’ needs and be open to the fact that their style might be different than our own. You don’t have to be an extrovert to be a successful relationship builder – but you do need to be a strong communicator.”
For both lawyers and legal marketers, building strong relationships with clients happens over the long-term but, being attuned to their needs and understanding how they want to interact with you can help lay the foundation of a genuine and authentic connection.
Nicole adds, “I stress to my team that we should deliver services with the same guiding principles that we ask the lawyers to consider with their own clients. This includes taking an interest in the other person, bringing an innovative mindset, being responsive and solutions-focused, asking questions to understand needs, and delivering high-quality work.”
Consistency is key
The more you do anything, the easier and more natural it becomes. Which means, the more consistent you are in your outreach to clients and other professional contacts, the easier it will be to build on initial connections.
Lisa Marie Bruzzese, Director of Regional Business Development at BLG, has worked with lawyers for more than a decade and shares that, “Relationships are developed on the foundation of trust, and trust is built through consistency in experience across various interactions. The lawyers I work with see me as a trusted business partner because I consistently demonstrate competence, steadiness, influence and sincerity, regardless of the complexity of the project or task.”
For busy professionals, it can be beneficial to carve out small amounts of time, on a regular basis, to keep up with your professional network. Informal touchpoints can be meaningful if they’re done often and in an authentic way.
Margaret Robbins, fifth-year Associate at Lenczner Slaght says, “One of the most comforting pieces of advice I got from our BD team when I was starting my career was that relationship building takes time and starts with small steps, not grand gestures. I’ve applied this advice to building relationships with clients but also with our own marketing and BD professionals within the firm. The small steps – coffee chats and email check-ins – have helped me develop relationships that are supportive, encouraging and full of joy and friendship.”
A shared interest in succeeding
Given the synergies between the roles, it shouldn’t be difficult for legal marketers and lawyers to find common ground and work together to generate new business opportunities.
Lisa Cabel, National Leader of the Employment and Labour Law practice at KPMG Law LLP shared, “For the overwhelming majority of us, to succeed in the practice, your skillsets need to go beyond your technical and substantive expertise – you must learn know how to build and foster professional relationships. After spending many of my early years grinding out hours learning my trade, I started taking more time to build my profile and began relying heavily on the expertise and support of the legal marketers available to me. They confirmed what I already knew, which was that the key to building a successful practice was to take time to connect with my clients and contacts at a personal level.”
For a legal marketer, the benefit of developing strong relationships with lawyers is that it makes it much more natural to collaborate, to spot opportunities, and to support niche practice areas or specialties. It’s also incredibly rewarding – a shared interest in succeeding can be the ultimate motivator, helping to inject trust and loyalty into the relationship.
Eloïse Gratton, Partner and National Co-Leader of the Privacy and Data Protection practice at BLG explains, “I have been working closely with legal marketers over the past several years. They have been instrumental in building my profile in the legal community. I have always felt that the best way to promote myself and my practice is through the development of client-centric, value-added content – publishing, speaking at conferences, and more recently developing virtual webinars. Legal marketers are invaluable in these instances – they understand the needs of the market, have creative ideas on the positioning of content, and have strong industry networks to draw upon.”
A career-long commitment
People want to work with those they like, know and trust. Stay focused on relationship building, develop techniques that work for you, and enjoy the endless possibilities of long-lasting connections.