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Overcoming the pandemic relationship challenge

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In this week’s blog, TPC Leadership Associate Tom Bird is focusing on how to overcome the challenge of how to engage with clients and colleagues during the pandemic when you can’t meet in person.

The legal sector, like many others, has been hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and also similar to others has had to rethink the way it works. The good news is that there is still plenty of work out there and the sector remains competitive. So, the question is how do you engage with your clients, potential clients and colleagues now you can’t meet face to face? How can you connect in a way that builds on your relationships and grows the business and how do you win new business when you can’t physically meet with people? The fact remains that Covid or no Covid, clients buy emotionally and then justify their decisions with logic. With most business transactions and conversations now taking place in a virtual setting and with a greater reliance on technology to communicate, how do you ensure you can form a human connection with clients and colleagues?

You need to schedule time for small talk

We have heard from many lawyers that they are getting less time with their clients. The reality is with many people on back-to-back video calls on a daily basis the desire to just get down to business means we’re losing the opportunity to make small talk and the small talk can deliver huge benefits in terms of relationship building. In many meetings, the real value comes from the first 5-10 minutes before you start the formality of it or in the 5-10 minutes after you’ve ended the formal part of the meeting and before you leave. This fundamental shift means lawyers are struggling even more to build the human connection and end up just focussing on their expertise in the matter at hand. At the heart of it, relationships are still key but you’ve got to build it differently when you can’t get face to face with your clients. One part of the solution is to build in time for a softer start and close to your meetings and ensure you are asking more general questions of your clients, be curious.

Maximise connection: ensure your camera is on

It may be tempting to join client calls and keep your camera off but put your camera on! People are buying people so if they can’t see you, you’re missing out.  In face to face communication, 55% of the meaning is in your body language, 38% is in voice tone and 7% is in your words so if you’re turning off your camera you are eliminating a large proportion of your opportunity to make a connection and have a positive impact.

Some more practical tips for video calls:

  1. Camera position – Once you’ve turned it on, position your camera so it’s at the level of your eye so that you are looking into it, you shouldn’t be looking down. Try and look into their eyes so you can establish a connection.
  2. Lighting – ensure you’re lit from the front; people need to be able to see you clearly
  3. Background – give some consideration to your background, ensure it supports the image you wish to portray to clients and colleagues.
  4.  Leadership – if it’s your meeting you have to provide leadership. Suggest an agenda (and send it in advance of the call) and be prepared for any technical issues, steer the meeting more than you would as on a video call and make sure you ask open questions throughout to create more interaction and opportunities for the other person to ask questions themselves.

Connect with your colleagues

Clients commonly ask for three things from their Lawyer in addition to the delivery of the work:

  1. A lawyer who understands and is curious about their business
  2. A lawyer focused on relationship
  3. A firm that is integrated

As we’ve already identified, maintaining and building relationships with our clients is already under strain because we can’t meet face to face and we are relying on video calls to do business.

During Covid how often have you connected with your partners/associates outside of your practice area? We’ve heard that for many lawyers the informal conversations amongst partners has stopped and so the opportunity to hear about what is going on within the wider firm has been lost. People are only meeting to discuss specific topics. This results in not knowing what is happening more broadly in the firm. If this is the case how can you talk to your clients about their wider issues and add more value? From a client’s perspective they want to know that their Lawyer has the connections outside of their practice area should they need other or more complex support. So, without internal networking and discussions, we are reducing the integration of our firms.

The personal touch – pick up the phone, be authentic

Many clients are feeling frustrated at the moment due to receiving too many standardised messages/alerts from their law firms. Firms are sending out lots of marketing emails but this does nothing to build the relationship between lawyer and client. One of the specific questions that lawyers have right now is “How can I reach out to clients individually in a way that is authentic?”

The answer is really simple, pick up the phone with no agenda other than genuinely wanting to check in with your clients: ask questions and be curious.

One senior partner in a law firm in Asia said that when Covid hit he picked up the phone and called all his clients and received an overwhelmingly positive response. He wasn’t touting for business he just rang them and asked them how they were doing and if there was anything he could do for them personally to help. He spoke about one client who said they couldn’t get any PPE and this Lawyer happened to have a contact who manufactured masks, he was able to pull in a favour and a week later the client had 500 masks. And guess what their relationship was strengthened.

If you’d like to discuss ensuring your virtual presence is as strong as your in person presence, get in touch; we’d love to hear from you.

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