One of my best clients was a very large privately owned corporation. I had a great relationship with Steve, the majority shareholder/CEO. Our firm was the ‘go-to’ corporate counsel for the company.
The first time that Steve’s company was looking to handle some acquisitions, the CEO asked me, “What is your snack bracket for this type of work?” What he wanted to know was what size of deal we were comfortable handling. The answer at the time was deals of up to about $100,000,000. Beyond that a larger firm would better serve him.
So Steve gave us all of his acquisition work which was within our snack bracket but looked elsewhere for the huge deals.
Now, I could have told Steve that we could handle larger deals as well, but Steve probably would not have believed me and I might have lost the trust which was the keystone of our relationship.
It is important to understand that every client with any level of sophistication will slot their lawyer into a snack bracket. However, most clients will not be as upfront about it as Steve was. As a lawyer, you always have to be aware of your snack bracket, and equally important, manage your client’s expectations about what you can handle.
I failed at this many times.
There was Gordon who used our firm for all of his work for many years until it was time to sell his business. Then he turned to another firm without even asking me about our ability to handle it. Perhaps I had never explained our capabilities to him. Or maybe I did not get close enough to his accountant who he saw as his trusted advisor and who steered him to someone who referred business to him.
Then there was Dan, another long-term client who got himself into a franchise dispute which our firm could easily have handled. But Dan panicked and ran downtown to consult with a franchise lawyer at a large firm for a second opinion. That lawyer convinced David that our firm was too unsophisticated for this type of dispute and he was gone.
And of course I can never forget Doctor Bob who ran a specialty medical clinic and had all sorts of difficult contractual issues to handle. Doctor Bob seemed to truly appreciate the creativity and diligence that I brought to that work. But when he sold the clinic, he went elsewhere without even asking me if I could handle it. The first that I heard about it was when Doctor Bob called to ask me to help facilitate the due diligence requirements for the transactions lawyer.
I often thought that the explanation for each of these failures was that the client was unappreciative, disloyal, and generally a lesser level of human being than myself. However, as I think about it now, I realize that each of these failures was my fault. In every case I had failed to communicate my snack bracket and infiltrate the client’s network of influencers.
Here are some questions for you to ask yourself:
- Does your client know what your capabilities are beyond the type of work that you have traditionally done for them?
- Is your client familiar with the resources in your firm that you can draw upon to handle types of work which are not within your skill set, and believe that you are willing to bring them in when required?
- Have you introduced your client to other lawyers in your firm who can handle different specialties, or kept the client close to your vest to protect your originating credits?
- Do you know who your client’s trusted advisor is, and have you reached out to get to know that person and found ways to support their business?
Lawyers tend to forget that marketing to their existing clients is the easiest type of marketing that they can do. It all starts with knowing your snack bracket and making sure that your clients also know it. If you don’t, you can be sure that they will be snacking elsewhere.
This article was originally published by Law360 Canada, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.