Winslow Homer, "An Afterglow"

"My lawyer is my best friend."

How often has a client said that about you?

"Client intimacy," not just good client service, will be an important feature of the successful law firm of the future.

This is the third of a series of nine posts that will describe and explore seven characteristics[note 1] that will determine which law firms remain successful in the legal services industry of the future, and what law firms can do now to build them into their operations and professional cultures.

One shift, which we have already observed in law firms that have done well during the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, will be closer, more-fully informed, more proactive relationships with clients.

What will this look like?

There are at least seven (and probably more) defining characterists of a successful response to this challenge:

  • In-depth -- indeed, intimate -- knowledge and understanding of the client's strategic and business objectives, not just in the case or transaction that is currently on the lawyer's desk, but reaching into every corner of the client's enterprise
  • Precise, timely anticipation of the impacts of economic and political developments on each client's need for legal services
  • Proactive communications with clients, rather than sitting in the office and waiting for the client to call
  • The ability to deliver legal services anytime and anywhere the client needs them, either directly or through already-established relationships with other legal services providers.
  • Frequent personalized contact, not just a monthly mass-mailing of a newsletter
  • Custom-tailored performance standards to meet each client's needs and service expectations
  • Every lawyer, not just a few "rainmaker" partners, with acknowledged, significant individual responsibilities for client relations and business development

What will law firms need to do?

Meeting these new conditions for succes will require that some law firms and lawyers shift away from the paradigms that, while arguably successful in the past, have become irrelevant or even counterproductive today. We will  see greater attention to, and investment in, an more systematic approach to collective and individual innovation in the management of client relationships. These will include, for example:

  • Custom-tailored client relations and business development plans for each major client
  • Interactive client relations management systems that are deployed to, and used by, every lawyer in the firm -- not just the marketing department or a few partners
  • Systems and procedures that support ongoing client feedback -- more than the general client survey or the end-of-matter questionnaire
  • Policies and procedures to involve clients more directly, and in more significant ways, in decisions about the law firm's management in areas that affect, directly or indirectly, client services
  • Investment of time, resources, and management attention in the professional development of associates, especially in business development and practice management skills
  • A client oriented, value-added perspective in the reporting and analysis of firm-wide, practice group, and individual financial performance

None of this is new. Many law firms are already taking these steps toward a successful future. However, those who fail to do so will risk an erosion of the best parts of their client base, the loss of their best legal work, and probably extinction by the of this decade, as increasingly sophisticated clients gravitate to law firms that demonstrate -- not just assert in their marketing materials -- that they understand the needs of 21st-century clients and meet them with 21st-century approaches to legal services.

Norman Clark


1The seven defining characteristics of the law firm of the future are: 

  1. A conversion from a "factory" model for the production and delivery of legal services to a "shipyard" model
  2. Closer, ongoing client relationships 
  3. Sustainable profitability 
  4. Very high workflow leverage
  5. "Anytime, anywhere" service delivery capabilities
  6. An intense focus on quality management
  7. A predisposition for innovation.

For more information about the Walker Clark "futures practice,"  contact the author by e-mail.