How To Become Indispensable To Your Firm

August 5, 2015
Michael Macagnone

Virtually no attorney is indispensable to his or her law firm, but lawyers
can bring themselves closer to that lofty goal by building key relationships
with current and prospective clients.

Good attorneys can be invaluable, but it takes more than a solid practice to get even close to indispensable to the firm, according to partner Tom Craig
of Fluet Huber & Hoang PLLC. Craig said firms really value attorneys who
can keep clients and grow the business in an increasingly competitive

“Being a really good lawyer is the price of admission,” he said. “If you’re not
a really good lawyer you need to find a new job.”

Craig said attorneys who keep the status quo will likely lose out to
attorneys who offer something better.

“It used to be more common to latch with a law firm and say these are my
guys and sit with them for two decades,” Craig said.

Now, he said, firms value attorneys who can survive and thrive in a
tougher, more competitive environment, but that requires skills outside
the courtroom or briefing. That rang true across a swath of firms and
practices areas; experts said the nigh-indispensable attorneys have deep
understanding of their own practice, their clients’ and firms’ needs, as well
as an eye for long-term planning.

Here, experts share tips on how lawyers can set themselves apart from
their peers.

Deepen Current Client Relationships

Experts said the indispensable attorneys don’t let their client relationships
go to waste. They take the steps they need to keep the clients well-served
and make themselves a go-to person for as many of their needs as possible.

“It has become even more important that [law firm] partners have good
relations with [their] clients,” Craig said. “You have to be the kind of person
who can form those deep relationships with your clients.”

That’s fundamental to becoming an indispensable attorney, according to
Frederick Ball, a partner at Duane Morris LLP. From associates proving
themselves to their assigning partners, to partners proving themselves to
the firm, their work ultimately focuses on the client.

“If you want to be indispensable to the firm, you want to be indispensable
to your clients,” Ball said. “You want to be where you are kind of that one
or two people they will turn to when they have a problem.”

Craig also noted that although there could be times when a client may be
unhappy with the outcome of a case or deal, the test of the indispensable
attorney can be building and keeping a relationship where the client trusts
the counsel they receive and continues to return for it.

Part of that value to clients, in addition to building trust, comes in an
attorney’s expertise. Craig said in his practice, an increasing number of
small- and medium-sized businesses are looking to sell their products
internationally, so attorneys with knowledge of current and changing
export control and other regulations are a must.

That sort of specialized knowledge can be key to establishing your value to
both your clients and your firm, according to Abbi S. Freifeld, a partner at
Roig Lawyers in Florida, who said that can lead to a deeper relationship
with the client on a broad range of issues, as well as trust from other
members of the firm.

“You want to be the go-to person in the firm that your peers come to as
well as your clients,” she said. “You can put yourself in a position to be the
first person who comes to mind when they have an issue.”

Developing New Business

Pressing a single button can send out hundreds of emails to potential
clients, but that won’t get attorneys the results they need, according to Jolie
Balido, co-founder of Roar Media, which provides legal consulting based in

She said modern technology creates a trap for many attorneys who think
they can do “turnkey” business development through the Internet, when
acquiring new clients really means getting out into the world and meeting
new people, Balido said.

“It’s the nature of the beast, the nature of law requires them to be cautious
and methodical,” Balido said. “The key with becoming a rainmaker and
making yourself stand out is to step outside of that.”

Balido said it’s expected for attorneys to have good practices, as well as
numerous awards and a well-built website. But just sending out a
newsletter about those achievements won’t cut it; attorneys need to
network, go to events, build relationships and continue to communicate to
get new clients.

Attorneys who have that networking ability are a treat to watch, Balido
said, with a “fire in the belly” that drives them to keep going, meet new
people, develop relationships and eventually acquire new clients.

“They walk into a room and just change it,” Balido said. “They walk into a
lunch and know everyone there, or if they don’t, they soon will.”

Understanding Clients and Markets

The key to truly standing out, according to Elizabeth Deeley, a litigation
partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, is the ability to understand clients, their
markets and how to best serve them over the long term, from keeping costs
in mind to pursuing clients’ goals in the right way.

There’s been an evolution in the market, as clients and firms have become
more conscious of the cost of litigation, Deeley said. Attorneys who can
keep the costs of litigation under control are more likely to keep their
clients long-term, she said.

“Ten-plus years ago from a litigation perspective, you might have a client
that was win at all costs, turn over every rock,” Deeley said. “Now there are
ways to approach still getting that win now but doing it in a way that is
more valuable to the client.”

Achieving a more circumspect practice goes beyond billable hours in
discovery though, according to Deeley. She cautioned against being “penny-
wise and pound-foolish” for attorneys who don’t take the time up front to
establish their clients’ goals and plans to achieve them.

“Achieving Pyrrhic victories is not in the client’s best interest,” Deeley said.

Ball noted attorneys need a deep understanding of the client’s business, as
well as the market it operates in, to avoid making mistakes that can cost
the client a lot of money and potentially the firm the client.

“I tell people, ‘Our job is to solve business problems for our clients,’” Ball
said. “You don’t want to spend $1 million on something that has just a
$500,000 effect on the business.”

And it’s not enough to just service current clients well or acquire a bunch of
new ones, according to Deeley. She said, to be the hypothetical
indispensable attorney, you really do have to have it all.

In particular, she said, you should be able to take ownership of the client
relationship, keep on top of other matters and keep the whole thing on
track to clients’ goals.

“From my perspective the person who is most important and most
indispensable may be the person who can wear all of these other hats,”
Deeley said.