How to Build and Maintain Client Relationships as a Small Law Firm
Updated: May 29
The traditional cornerstones of the attorney-client relationship are great legal work and attention to detail. Today’s client is also looking for a relationship with their attorney in which they feel you’re truly invested in their wellbeing. Whether you’re strengthening relationships with long-term clients or building your practice, here are some tips to keep in mind:
Recognize their major achievements.
There’s a reason big firms give “deal toys” at the culmination of a big project: it’s a powerful reminder of the work that’s gone into the achievement. Consider reaching out to your client at the end of a major deal to commemorate the occasion. If it’s a project you’ve spent a lot of billable hours on, it probably represents a pretty significant milestone on their end. A handwritten card would be great here: a few words about how you’ve enjoyed working with them (and how excited you are for the impact).
Send a “thank you” for referrals.
Word of mouth is an incredibly powerful way to build your practice, so you’ll want to thank the clients and other members of your network who recommend you to their circles. This is a great time to send a gift: while an email is always nice, it’s read by the recipient in just a few minutes. A physical gift, on the other hand, is received, unwrapped, consumed or displayed; the impact (and therefore the amount of time the recipient is appreciating your gesture) is far more powerful.
Know your audience.
Even when you’re dealing with prospective clients you don’t know very well yet, there are broad strokes you can use to guide your approach. For example, Gen Z and Millennial clients (who now make up the majority of the workforce) tend to be more concerned about how their choices impact social and environmental causes than their Gen X or Baby Boomer counterparts. They also tend to be more interested in experiences rather than physical gifts. If you’re focusing on attracting an under-40 clientele, try leaning on experiences and charitable donations as gifts.
Remember individual preferences, rather than “promoting your brand.”
Be aware of the recipient’s needs and history. Sending your client a gift they can’t actually use (like sending champagne to someone who’s stopped drinking, or cookies to a client who follows a gluten-free diet) is a sure way to move your relationship backward. Similarly, not many clients are going to value items branded with your firm’s logo. Any gesture you make that demonstrates that you’re paying attention to them as an individual—whether it’s a gift, a card, or even an email—will be far better “marketing” than a logo-emblazoned pen or water bottle.
Be there in the bad times.
Even the most sophisticated clients can feel emotional or nervous about major legal decisions, but a strong relationship with their attorney can mitigate those feelings. Build that relationship by checking in if you know your client’s going through a rough patch, such as a death in the family. No elaborate gesture is needed—a flower delivery or a handwritten note is fine—but the fact that you made the effort will be felt long after the moment ends.
Make sure you’re staying within your firm’s budgetary restrictions.
Most firms have guidance around client gifting, whether it’s per occasion or per year. Keep track of how much you’ve spent on each client to ensure that you’re staying within the guidelines and getting a reasonable ROI on your spending.
All the above recommendations do require a significant amount of work: keeping track of client milestones, mailing addresses, and individual preferences. But with Present, it’s all turnkey. Just integrate Present with your client management system, and we’ll alert you when it’s time to act and help you close the loop in less than a minute. Send any kind of gift—including charitable donations and experiences—or send a handwritten card as easily as sending a gift. Check out this video that shows more about how Present helps develop and maintain relationships. (Or book a demo now.)
Also, Present was co-founded by an attorney, Julie Schechter. She graduated from Harvard Law School and practiced at Gibson Dunn before developing this relationship-building software.