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Forming the social-formal axis

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Once a CRM system has been installed one of the most frequent things we’re asked to help with is the implementation of the practical side of the firm’s client development strategy.   

In plain English that means we work alongside the marketing and BD team/s to make sure fee earners are doing the ‘stuff’ that will actually generate a commercial return from the functionality the new CRM system offers and the information it houses.

During that process the one barrier we come up against most frequently (whether it’s raised by the fee earners involved or by a marketing director tired of banging their head against it and now actively seeking a way to circumnavigate it) is: “How can I get in front of my clients?  They are very busy you know” or some iteration of the same sentiment.

In our experience, the answer lies in following a two-line strategy and the two lines in question are:

  1. Social
  2. Formal  

The reason the social-formal access works is simply that it ticks the two boxes every professional relationship must tick:

  1. Your clients must recognise your fee earners are the right people for the job

The formal interactions will underline your technical skills and how you will apply those technical skills to pre-empt and solve the knotty issues your clients will encounter.

  1. Your clients must be comfortable talking to you … about everything  

If you don’t have regular social interaction, you will not create the conversations that lead to total disclosure.  Without those, you will not be in a position to add maximum value. 

We’ve found that when it comes to implementing a social-formal axis within your client development plans, it is often easier if you have some ideas up your sleeve when you sit down and put a plan together with the fee earners responsible for each relationship.   

To help illustrate, what could constitute formal and social interactions (and to share some ideas we’ve seen work well) here are a few proven examples:


  • Have an annual review meeting.  What are their objectives for the coming year?  How do they plan to get there?  What additional support will they need?
  • Visit them onsite.  Going to them is both flattering and productive; as the client is on home turf they will be more comfortable and more likely to open up.
  • Offer to sit in on their next Board meeting to provide a legal/external perspective on future plans.
  • Similarly (or additionally), offering to review their business/departmental plan is also a good way to garner positive PR and add value – as solicitors your team will provide a point of view that those who wrote the plan may not have considered. 
  • Deliver training at their premises.  Again the fact you are willing to train smaller groups outside your regular seminar programme is not only more flattering, but also a better forum in which to ascertain the real lay of the land.  


  • Catch up over coffee.  This approach is quicker and cheaper than more formal social interactions and the informality often allows for a broader and less guarded conversation.
  • Lunch.  Sounds obvious, but you need to: a) only invite those that like to lunch; and b) recognise that sub-set’s personal preferences.  Only invite those who enjoy lunch and tailor the event to their preferred format/cuisine/location.
  • Know your clients’ personal interests.  Don’t rely on the usual rugby and/or golf defaults; find out what your clients really like and do that with them.
  • Make personal introductions.  Who do your clients really want to meet?  Who would your clients benefit from meeting?  Think more strategically and use those introductions to add real value to your social programme. 
  • Team-on-team events.  The more links you have between your firm and your client, the stronger your relationship will be so make sure your solicitors are using every opportunity to widen contact.  And remember while round tables and in-house sandwich lunches are a good start, curries/bowling/pool etc. are more effective in establishing a more sociable platform for future growth.
Tags: InterAction

About the Author:

With more than 20 years of professional sales and marketing experience, Douglas McPherson is now one half of Size 10 1/2 Boots, a specialist business development agency that works solely with the professional services and with law firms in particular. Their aim is to pass on the proven and practical tips they learnt from their senior commercial roles in-house and in industry to lawyers and accountants who want to win more new clients and more work from the clients they already have. Doug is also a regular columnist for Solicitors Journal, Private Client Adviser, The Lawyer and is the author of The Visible Lawyer.

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