Client Development

Playing the Long Game

Entrepreneurs should always aim to play the long game. Instant gratification cannot build a legacy. —  Andrena Sawyer, business consultant

Matt is a rather humble business owner. He recently told me that, “the thing about bringing more intelligent people into the room is that it is so easy for me.”

Matt is also a very successful business owner. He gets it. His goal is not to prove to the world how smart he is. It is to build a business that provides a great service and makes customers happy.

Matt is not a lawyer. Over my career in law, I did not meet very many lawyers with Matt’s attitude. Instead, I often met lawyers who honestly thought that they were the brightest, most capable person around, no matter what the assignment. Or perhaps they knew that they were not the ideal person for the job but would never tell a client that.

Sometimes they hesitated to bring in one of their partners or associates who was a better fit for the client because they wanted the client origination credits, the billable hours, or just the glory.

I rarely saw a lawyer tell the client that their firm was not the best firm to meet the client’s needs and recommend someone at another firm.

Lawyers who are playing the long game will bring other people into the room. They will be sure that the client is well-served.

I wanted my clients to know that they could bring any problem to me and that if I were not the best person to solve it, I would find someone who was. If they knew that, they would keep calling. I would do all of the work that I was good at and refer them to other professionals if better suited to a task than I was. But I wanted them to call me first, and they would not do that unless they could trust me.

This is sometimes more easily said than done for junior people who may need the fees to pay the rent. And it could be downright dangerous for those suffering imposter syndrome who might be inclined to refer away work that they are perfectly capable of doing. But as a general rule, it is sound.

The same thing goes when the issue is not knowledge or experience, but capacity to do the work on a timely basis. Put the client first. Play the long game.

I recently had the opportunity to hire a lawyer. I was referred to someone and I really wanted him to take on the assignment. He expressed interest in the work but told me that the lawyers in his firm who would be the best people to handle this type of work did not have the capacity to do it on a timely basis. I tried to convince him that he could squeeze it in, but he politely declined. He offered me two referrals to other lawyers outside his firm. All of this happened on a Friday before a long weekend when I am sure that he had other things on his mind.

Despite my disappointment that his firm could not help me, I was impressed with every aspect of my interaction with this lawyer and would not hesitate to call him again.

Put the client first. Play the long game. (I thought that was worth repeating.)

This article was originally published by The Lawyer’s Daily (, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.

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