In most businesses, it is simply not that easy to have your clients transfer with you upon departure. Individual relationships can certainly influence a transfer of client. However, the strength of the company often outweighs the influence of the individual.

As the legal business becomes more competitive, firms are trying to change this practice. They have to. As the number of lateral hires continues at a record pace, it has become a threat to the firm’s revenue. According to an ALM Legal Intelligence Survey, 96% of law firms plan to laterally hire attorneys as a strategy to grow their business.  Established firms are losing major clients at a higher rate than in the past. According to BTI Consulting, 60 % of large clients have replaced one of their two primary outside counsel, the highest turnover rate in seven years. And, 59 % of the new primary firms are from outside the Am Law 50. It’s safe to assume at least some of those replacement firms are established when an attorney leaves a large firm to start their own practice or work with another law firm, taking their book of business with them.

Savvy firms are redefining the client relationship and thereby retaining business.  Here are four ways to do that.

Focus on team effort. Rather than having one engagement partner own the relationship, spread client exposure to others members of the firm, including attorneys of a variety tenure, age, specialization and backgrounds. That not only broadens the relationship with the client, but also gives more opportunity and more responsibility to younger attorneys, which just might help keep them from departing the firm with the engagement partner or for another opportunity.

Use technology and policy to create stronger links with clients and to temper attorney attitudes about their work product. You might arrange a meeting between your firm’s general counsel and the client’s in house counsel, for example, to review policies for retaining, coding and archiving documents. Such a meeting not only impresses a client with your attention to detail, it also creates closer personal and technical ties. If the client is happy with how the firm manages and secures their confidential records, they are less likely to go to the effort, expense and trouble of moving them to another firm. In fact, the technology and policies at a company play a major role in employee decisions to take data when they leave a firm, according to a recent survey by Biscom, a vendor of secure communications technology. The survey uncovered that one in four employees take sensitive company data when leaving a job. Most of them indicate they take their own work product and don’t feel wrong in doing so, primarily because their company did not have strong policies or technology in place to prevent it.

Educate your clients about all of your firm’s practice areas. You may be handling employment issues, such as sexual harassment suits, for a software company. But who handles its intellectual property business? Are they even aware of your IP practice? With corporations reducing and consolidating their legal spend, not to mention their recent willingness to switch outside counsel, your client may be eager to move more business to your firm. But that won’t happen unless they are informed about all of your expertise.

Remind them of all you’ve done for them. If you sense that a client may leave with a departing attorney, ask to meet with the client first. Use that meeting to review the work you’ve done for the client, reminding him of the breadth and depth of your firm. Review not only the matters, but list all of the staff – not just attorneys but the litigation support staff, administrative support and records managers – your firm uses to support their business.

It’s important to focus on the long term view. Most of the suggestions above require a firm to rethink the way they handle clients, which can be difficult for a firm with a longstanding culture and way of conducting business.

An outside consultant can often bring a fresh perspective and insights into how to best accomplish these changes. Firms that can make such changes will strengthen and lengthen relationships with clients.  Learn more about the benefits of bringing on an outside consultant.