5 obstacles to attract and retain clients + winning strategies

We’re proud to introduce a new blog series, featuring Mike O’Horo, business development strategist and founder of RainmakerVT an online rainmaking training course for lawyers interested in gaining new business development (BD) skills. Mike has nearly 30 years of experience in teaching results-driven, innovative approaches to BD. In the following blog, Mike explores the topic of attracting and retaining client business and the common obstacles firm leaders face when trying to attain those goals. We hope you enjoy his perspective and we encourage you to leave Mike comments or questions on LinkedIn or Twitter.


It wasn’t all that long ago that lawyers’ concept of turnover was limited to showing empathy when their corporate clients bemoaned its disruptive effect and insidious cost.  A client moving down the street was rare. 

Like other symbols of the cherished days of expanding demand, what American Lawyer called the Golden Age of law firms, client turnover is now a daily threat. These days, the name of the game is “attract and retain.”


5 obstacles to retaining clients (+ strategies to win)

1. Don’t understand the client’s business

This is the biggie. In survey after survey, and GC panel after GC panel, clients consistently bemoan their primary outside law firms’ lack of knowledge about their business. This frustrates clients because they expect these firms to bring fresh thinking and creative ideas to the table; that’s hard to do when you don’t understand the game the client is trying to win. That also translates into direct overhead as clients must pay those lawyers by the hour to learn how to be relevant.

2. No differentiation
Most firms’ messages are variations on the “Quality Legal Services/We’re Great Lawyers” theme, and too many firms assiduously avoid attracting attention, preferring to look just like the other “quality” firms. Research indicates that corporate buyers think all established firms are of relatively equal quality, and can’t appreciate the minor distinctions that lawyers cite in intramural discussions.

3. Tunnel vision
This means looking for business only in your own practice area, e.g., tax lawyers looking only for tax work, employment lawyers seeking only employment work, etc.

One corporate lawyer, seeking to groom biotech startups, had begun a relationship with a university’s business incubator. During a coaching session, he complained of a recent meeting at which the department heads kept steering the discussion back to a technology transfer problem. Exasperated, this lawyer told me: “But I wanted to talk about getting into the incubator’s startup stream.” Accepting technology transfer as the easy entry point and bringing in his IP colleagues didn’t occur to him.

Strategies to win

4. Winning is a great learning tool
Despite three decades of marketing evolution, some law firms still fear that bold, assertive sales and marketing will alienate their clients. But, those same corporate clients invest billions in sales and marketing. They know it’s critical, and they know it works.

Law firms have always sought the best people. Now, the definition of “best” has changed. Besides top legal skills, the best need marketing and sales skills that once were a luxury, found only in what were (falsely) perceived as “natural” rainmakers.  What was once the ceiling is now the floor. Lawyers know the importance of these skills, and they know they must acquire them—either at their current firm or at another one.

5. Education, training, coaching
Progressive law firms are overcoming obstacles to attracting and retaining clients through proper business development education, training and guidance.

Education provides the knowledge and a common language with which to propagate it. Skill-building requires coaching and continuous guidance while the skill is practiced. Ideally, lawyers apply sales and marketing lessons in real situations, guided by the unseen hand of their coach.

Thanks, Mike, for your informed perspective. We encourage readers to explore additional approaches to business development through Intapp OnePlace Marketing & Business Development, a solution geared for marketing and business development leaders that provides the tools they need to develop effective pitches and campaigns, track ROI, enhance firm reputation, and optimize client retention.