By Vivek Jayaram
Everybody appreciates thoughtful information sharing. Now, I’m not talking about material shared by those friends who flood your inbox with regular updates about their company’s progress, their favorite charity, or chain letters that promise doom if you fail to forward to every person you know. I’m talking about data that makes your life easier, provokes a thought, or takes a deeper dive into a topic previously explored with the sender. And when that someone sends us an article, podcast, or video that is practical, enlightening, or super relevant to something we’re working on, it doesn’t only make us feel good, but it makes us feel as though someone is actually listening to what we’re saying.
Believe it or not, clients in house are human beings and will probably have a similar response if you send them useful information. Here are three types of information sharing that will develop more meaningful connections between outside counsel and their in-house clients.
- Material That Makes Life Easier. Busy professionals, working parents, entrepreneurs. We probably have some of these people in our professional network. One thing that all these people value is time. If you come across a mobile application that makes work travel more seamless or affordable (I’m looking at you, @HotelTonight), a hack or service that makes document preparation more efficient (like LAWYAH), or maybe a subscription service for a product that your client said she loves (@mistobox coffee, anyone?), send some information about the product or service to your client. They will know you’re listening to them, they will appreciate the thoughtfulness of the share, and who knows, they just might think of you every morning while making their coffee, which is really where you want to be (top of mind).
- Information That is Thought Provoking. Smart people generally like to read. And people who like to read usually like well-written pieces that provide a unique perspective on their subject matter. The opportunities to share such work with in-house clients are virtually endless. Providing a client in-house with an interesting article about a new competitor, a new statute that may affect the way the client does business, or a podcast on the future of your client’s industry are all ways to let your client know that you’re not only thinking about them, but are thinking of ways you can add value to their business. This will also help your bid to be known as the go-to advisor for your client. They will begin to realize that you’re more than “just a lawyer;” you’re somebody who is consuming information and sharing with them data that is useful for their business at large, and for them as professionals. For example, I recently loved the book “Powerful” by Patty McCord. Because the book is largely about how to hire good people and build a strong team, I sent a copy to a client who was just elevated to GC from AGC in a large company. He told me when we last talked that hiring and managing people would be an increasingly large part of his new role. I thought (and he agreed) that the book was a perfect read for a guy in his position.
- Taking a Deeper Dive With a Client. Most of our interactions with clients are on phone calls or in meetings. Sure, we have the occasional lunch or dinner or whatever, but even those interactions are fairly limited in time. So follow up by sharing information that is the result of more critical thinking about a topic discussed previously with clients. A few weeks ago I had lunch with an in-house lawyer who is a client of mine. She mentioned in passing that she was unsure whether her employees had adequately conferred all of the IP to the company since many of them have side hustles in the tech industry. A few days later, I came across a really good piece on restrictive covenants in today’s tech employment ecosystem. It was on point, but not just from a legal perspective; it discussed the pros and cons of allowing certain kinds of employees to maintain ventures outside of their primary employment with their employer. My client was grateful for the share, and ended up sharing it with several colleagues internally.
There are a lot of smart lawyers out there who can do very good legal work. But our clients in-house demand and deserve more. Sharing useful information with them allows us as outside counsel to show that we understand our clients’ businesses and also have them top of mind. Put yourself in their shoes, for a moment: as a lawyer, you probably have relationships with all kinds of vendors, from e-discovery and legal research to marketing and PR. The fact that you hired these vendors probably means they have the credentials and skills to perform the work you need. But what keeps them as your vendor is a different question. Those vendors who are constantly trying to help grow your practice by sending referrals or providing you with other information are the ones you’ll value in the long-term. Same goes for your clients.
A final word about this: do not charge your clients for sending them articles or other material. Aside from the fact that it’s probably unethical and outside the scope of your engagement, it’s tacky and partially defeats the purpose of sending the material in the first place.
Sharing meaningful information with clients is invaluable. Whether it pertains to their core practice area, personal area of interest, or industry trends, providing this information to clients in house will not be a waste of time.