Throughout my time at Shoosmiths, our culture of positivity and optimism has hugely contributed to our successful growth. When COVID-19 imposed numerous challenges, I was confident our people and business would adapt well.
But what about our clients? We had many questions we wanted to ask. How were our clients affected? What were their priorities? How different was their world looking? What could we do to help?
It’s no exaggeration for me to say listening to our clients is the most significant influencer of how we shape our business. We all know ‘listening’ means a real level of engagement that we expect every single one of our partners and legal advisors to cultivate with their clients.
To ensure we were directly responding to these difficult times, we have collated what our partners are hearing from the market, and, while retaining client confidentiality, we have shared themes learnt from these listenings around our firm. Thanks to this approach, we have enriched the insight we already have to ensure the support we are providing is proactive and useful but, above all, reassures our clients of our support.
We have found that many clients are, unsurprisingly, grappling with disruption across numerous areas of their businesses. Disruption to supply chains, cash flow, staffing issues, compliance and support can be problematic at any one time. Having these areas in ‘collective disruption’ places new and unprecedented pressures on clients and their businesses.
‘Adding value’ and being a ‘trusted advisor’ are potentially over-used straplines and references in the lawyer/client relationship narrative. However, what has resonated with me most from our discussions with clients so far is the categoric need for firms like ourselves to substantiate these terms.
Happily, many of the areas that we consider crucial to an enduring relationship align with our clients’ views. Furthermore, all of these are readily transferrable to the new commercial landscape we find ourselves navigating.
So, what did we learn from our listenings?
- ‘Make sure you understand our business’ - potentially the most important element of a relationship at any time, there is a significant investment to be made. It was no surprise that the strongest client relationships are based on an intrinsic understanding of the business, and its goals. The investment in getting to know our clients is rewarded by our knowledge of the business, culture and people. This allows us to deliver a level of advice which is geared around anticipation of, as opposed to dealing with issues. This has led us to be ideally placed in times of crisis as the firm our clients turn to for support. Looking towards a brighter horizon, it is also extremely important that as and when a semblance of normality returns, we are as ready as our clients to navigate our way through the new landscape. Having understood what our clients have dealt with and its effects will be vital.
- ‘Solution led advice’ – time has never been a more precious commodity for our clients. They want to hear from us what they can do, not what the textbook tells us. Adopting a practical solution led approach means our advice is conveyed in the correct way and can be easily applied. Our clients have made it very clear there is no room for passive advice.
- ‘A joined-up approach’ – the consistency required by clients has always been an important aspect of any relationship. We are hearing that this has increased significantly in recent months. Many of us are now working within different environments at different times and need to be confident that our various interactions will contain the threads of consistency we need for one single viewpoint. Ensuring our clients have a single view of Shoosmiths is a key area of strategic focus for us., and will continue to be so as there are always ways we can make this better.
- How ‘reactive the legal profession is and has been’ during the crisis. Far too many lawyers in the market continue to be purely transactional (and are good at that) with a reactive world outlook but building and developing a high quality trusted business relationship takes more than simply doing the technical aspects of the job. Clients want more contact and support (both commercial and legal) from their key contacts/client partners. They tell us they value this, and this is what Shoosmiths is very good at.
Of course, all of the above are inextricably linked -so it’s perhaps no surprise that these were the most common areas we were hearing. Are they mutually exclusive? Perhaps not, but the over-riding message we are hearing from our clients is not to stop listening.
Please be assured we won’t.