The Relationship Game, It Turns Out, Is Anything But A Game

November 13, 2013 Jennifer O’Leary Cathell

Guest Blog Post from Relationship Game Attendee Jennifer O’Leary Cathell

Relationship Game

“How do you get your lawyers to move forward with your ideas?” I asked a colleague the first night of the One North Experience Lab.

“Oh, that’s easy; I play the ladder game,” was her reply. Clearly I needed an explanation. She continued.

“When I have an idea, a concept, a plan that is just outside of my lawyer’s comfort zone, I bring out the ladder, and I lean it against the wall. I look at the ladder; my lawyer looks at the ladder. I look at the lawyer; the lawyer looks at me, and we both look back at the ladder. The next thing you know, the lawyer is climbing the ladder. When the lawyer reaches the top, s/he looks down and says, ‘This was a great idea, exactly what I needed to do. I’m so glad I had the idea to climb this ladder!’”

As legal marketers, we all have our ladder stories. These are the relationship games we play when trying to convince a lawyer to trust us and move forward with a new idea. The truth of the matter is, the games are exhausting. So much energy is invested in convincing the lawyer that the concept you’ve presented is indeed the right way to go, that by the time you reach the starting line, you feel as though you are already a lap behind. But we keep going because we enjoy the work, we look forward to the next challenge and we’ve become really good at playing the game.

But this is where the games end.

Alyson Fieldman shared a statistic from BTI during her session that showed that 87.1% of legal clients admit that they would replace their primary law firm if given a reason. She went on to explain that of those who left their law firm for another, 60-80% said they were satisfied or very satisfied before defecting. This is an alarming statistic, one that should scare all lawyers into embracing change. Being a great lawyer and doing great work is no longer good enough. Clients want more.

The common thread strung throughout all presentations at this year’s Experience Lab was “authenticity.” The relationship business is not a new concept, but for lawyers who are taught to believe that clients want an Assertive, Savvy and Superior advocate representing their business, it can be difficult to convince them that the same clients also require from them Compassion, Attention, Respect & Encouragement. Relationships are critical in generating and keeping business. Lawyers who take the time to understand their clients personally are much more likely to succeed with them professionally.

This makes great sense, but how do we get our lawyers to understand that they are not the exception to the rule, and convince them that their clients aren't the 12.9% from the BTI survey that wouldn't jump ship? How do we assure them that the client is more likely to relate to their personal story rather than where they received their law degree decades ago? How do we prove that an Assertive, Savvy and Superior advisor is not the person clients want to commit to for a long-term relationship, and persuade them that a great lawyer cares not only about the business, but also about the clients themselves?

We don’t; we can’t always convince them. What we can do is bring out the ladder. Using the tools we have as legal marketers, we can keep an eye out for our clients’ best interests. We can suggest personal notes. We can create opportunities for our lawyers and clients to engage outside of work. We can offer creative approaches to ordinary tasks. We can help them exceed expectations, and suggest ways that will help our lawyers showcase their authentic selves and help establish true partnerships. And if we do this, if we provide the tools and suggest the steps, the only thing left for us to do is sit back and watch our lawyers climb.


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Jennifer O’Leary Cathell eMarketing, Design & Brand Manager

Jennifer O’Leary Cathell is the eMarketing, Design & Brand Manager at Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP. A significant amount of her time is spent on building and managing Edwards Wildman's websites, blogs and minisites. She is also responsible for the creation, design and production of the firm's marketing materials, including videos, advertisements and brochures. Jennifer has spent more than 15 years setting up ladders at the firm.

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