In 2005, after spending some 25 years in and around the law, I set about writing down what I had learned and valued most. What emerged as of central importance in my career and for the firm I created was relationships: with colleagues, clients and indeed anyone I dealt with in the course of practice and business.
The ABA published ‘Every Relationship Matters’ in 2007; a second edition was published this year and is also available outside North America under the title ‘Fragile’.
Our sector is underpinned by relationships that allow IP to reach into every country of the world, making it possible to navigate so many legal and cultural differences. Some relationships between firms have been maintained across generations. Such relationships are traditionally sustained through reciprocity and above all trust, built over time, that one can rely on the other to get the job done and, when necessary, go the extra mile.
Communication is paramount as we strive to meet ever more demanding performance expectations from clients, including intermediaries, who demand greater transparency, especially over fees, and are less tolerant of poor service.
Service is not just something you do. It is also, and perhaps most importantly in terms of perceived performance and the likelihood of repeat business, an experience. Service experience is also much more than providing fancy meeting rooms and serving good coffee.
A client has a right to expect a lawyer to get the law right; what makes the difference is how well-served the client feels throughout the engagement, regardless of the outcome. Understanding and managing expectations is, I believe, the key to trust; and trust is key to success in retaining and building client relationships.
Another aspect of relationship that is of vital importance is that which we have with ourselves. We do well not to underestimate the pressures we place on ourselves, and are placed on us, to perform as professionals: to be ready at all times with the right answer; to deliver considered and properly articulated responses, usually in writing, to exacting deadlines; to be always on.
To have a sustainable and successful career without losing touch with yourself along the way it is more essential than ever to become an expert in self-management.
The key to success
The focus of my book is on learning about effectiveness in relationships on behalf of your business, for yourself and for the organisation. This is the new field of advantage and one that offers longer-lasting success in business and quality in life.
Given the rapid development of AI and its ability to handle work that would once have been done by secretaries, paralegals, and, before long, lawyers, surely it makes sense to focus on what sets us apart from computer intelligence.
Mastering relationships requires emotional intelligence (EI). EI is the stuff of relationships that attract, retain and refer business and talent. EI, for those who have it, is the key to success for themselves and the firms they work in.