I’ve been convincing clients (somewhat successfully) over the past 15 years that lawyers can add value.
Yes, it has been struggle …
The original tag line for the firm was “Your Business Partner”. At the time, it made sense to me and conveyed the type of relationship I wanted to have with clients, but more importantly what I thought clients would want in a lawyer. Someone that was partnering with them in their success and would be a close confidant in whatever they did.
I eagerly believed the business books which said every great business person needed a great accountant and a great lawyer. I was to be the great trusted lawyer.
It was much harder to convince people than I thought.
I think it is uncontroversial to say that lawyers are generally viewed as transactional and dare I say as pleasant to visit as a colorectal surgeon.
Real relationships take time to grow and so does it take time getting to understand a business and its owners. There is no short cut and trust is earnt over time. Still wet behind the ears, I realised I had to do the little jobs, take calls out of hours, make referrals and do whatever it took in order to move into the ‘trusted advisor’ space. Through genuine interest in what my clients did in business, I was lent the opportunity to contribute to the ‘end game’.
It was around 5+ years into the firm’s journey that I began to witness the prophecy of “Your Business Partner” … our clients started to exit their businesses after using our firm for their commercial legal needs after a relatively long time. We had done this and that, been up and down with them but it had been journey and for me an exciting and rewarding one with each of them.
In the final stages of a big sale, it became clear to me that our clients really valued the investment. When I say ‘investment’ I mean in terms of fees but also and more importantly in relationship building over years. The years of each of us listening, visiting each other and doing the necessary work had paid off. These clients had the critical things in place that many owners do not.
When they received the huge due diligence checklist from the buyer before they sold, we could complete it with relative ease and the transaction progressed (as smoothly as they can).
Those that their ‘house in order’ were more attractive and achieved a better multiple or price for their business.
It wasn’t the employment contracts, the customer terms, the trademark or structure advice that stood out, it was a cumulative effect. As clients moved through their lifecycle of business, and continued to grow and brief us and make us a part of their team, they were building a more solid foundation. Our legal services were very much linked to how they now interacted with their staff, customers, suppliers and competitors but also how they viewed themselves with confidence. We were finally a ‘partner’.
There is no greater moment than being held in such esteem with a client.
The investment of time as much as money with your trusted advisers can be best captured in the moment you successfully exit your business. In that moment, the value of your lawyer comes into sight … at least for the celebration lunch when they are paying!
Maximising your exit is what we do, but it’s often a journey. It is our job to make that journey a safe, valuable and rewarding one.