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Better engagement letters

Jul 18 2017

Matt Peacock’s blog “Don’t just do a “job” well – meet your client’s business objectives” is essential reading for lawyers working hard to impress their clients. Doing what we said we would do isn’t good enough, says Matt. We can do better if we understand how a client benefits from our work. And we can do better still if we make sure the client knows that business improved because of our work.

We can make an easy start by putting some life into our engagement letters. I suggested in “Engagement letters – watch your language” that CCLs are too long, too complex, and too difficult to read. And they’re too dull. Reading one feels like the oxygen just got sucked out of the room. So how can we revive them?

Make them shorter and simpler by breaking them up? Yes!
Bring a reader-friendly touch to the regulatory / compliance content? Yes!
Re-focus on things that make the client’s life easier. Please, yes!

Want a few examples? Here’s half a dozen:

1. Do what the Big 4 do - start with the client’s objectives rather than the scope of the work - So instead of just saying “we’ll draft a standard employment contract”, why not precede this with the client’s objectives e.g. “you wish to improve your HR management and preserve your brand and reputation as a high-quality employer”? Or “your goal is to recover your cash in full or at a discount agreed with you” could helpfully preface “acting in your dispute with…”

2. Provide an initial plan breaking the matter into phases, and each phase into a sequence of tasks - This will help you and the client to allocate responsibilities, identify the resources and effort required and agree timescales. You’ll be removing the client’s guesswork by answering the inevitable questions – What? When? How? Who?

3. Agree on a level of control - There’s all sorts of helpful things you can do here – specifying who can instruct, agreeing on reporting frequency, describing how changes will be handled / charged for, and so on.

4. Identify the deliverables - Describe what the client gets at the end; what’s the output going to be? It might be a document. Or it might be the removal of a threat to their business or the introduction of a new, better way of working. Describe how they will benefit!

5. Introduce the team properly - Make a habit of doing something more than simply providing names and titles. You’d do more than that at a party.

6. Talk about the money - Make sure you’ve had the conversation already and use the engagement letter to confirm the fees and to explain how the billing and payment arrangements will work. You’re helping the client if you do this, and reducing the chances of awkward conversations later on.

These are all easy wins for busy lawyers. They are all things that clients will welcome and remember you for. But we know that already, don’t we? Just look at the standards being set by the best professional service providers.

Want to know more about Legal Project Management?

For lawyers and project specialists interested in learning more about Legal Project Management Kinch Robinson and OMC Partners are running a series of briefings “LPM: what do clients really expect?”

Sessions are being held with the support of, and in the following locations:

Leeds - Leeds University Business School (27th July)

Manchester - Berwin Leighton Paisner (28th September)

Bristol - RPC (tba September) London – Berwin Leighton Paisner (12th October)

Birmingham – Shakespeare Martineau (tba October)

Places are limited but delegates can attend for free, but need to register via Kath@KinchRobinson.com