Jim Donovan

7 Secrets to Successful Client Relationships

U

niversity of Virginia School of Law Adjunct Professor Jim Donovan is responsible for advising many of the largest corporate and individual clients of Goldman Sachs, where he has been a partner since 2000.

Here are seven things he says all lawyers need to know about covering clients:

1. Covering clients is a learned skill, not an innate skill. It’s important to find somebody you admire at your firm and learn as much as you can from that person. Put aside your ego, and be an open book. 

2. Become a strategic adviser to your clients. The most common mistake that people make when they cover clients is they don’t become strategic advisers to their clients. In other words, they don’t take the opportunity to advise the client on matters outside of the matter they’ve been hired to work on. Use the relationship you’ve developed to build a broader relationship. 

3. Listen and ask open-ended questions. The most important quality in covering clients is empathy. Ask questions that don’t lend themselves to “yes” or “no” answers. 

4. Be creative. I covered two CEOs from different countries. They had the same nickname for their lawyer: Dr. No. Whenever they asked for his advice, he always told them not to do something. Sometimes you do have to say no, but don’t stop there. Come up with an alternative, a different way that your client can accomplish what they want to accomplish. And if they can’t accomplish that, come up with something else.

5. Put the client first. Lots of people say that, but what does it really mean? First, be prepared to give the client advice that is not in your interest. There is no better way to establish credibility. If you go to the client and say you shouldn’t do this deal, they know that, as a lawyer, you’ll get paid more the longer it goes on. So you need to advocate hard for positions regardless of what is in your interest. 
Second, you need to work really hard to convince the client that you’re there for them all the time. If you’re not there for the client on the thing that they’ve hired you to do, someone else is going to be there, and be willing to pick up the phone at 2 or 3 in the morning if you’re not. 

6. Be upbeat. I can’t tell you how important this is. People want to be around happy, upbeat people. It’s contagious. And being down is also contagious. 

7. If you’re studying law, take classes in business as well.Understand your peers: how they’re educated, how their companies work. For one, it’ll make you a better lawyer. And second, it will demystify the jargon and language of the business world. The concepts are often simple, but if you’re not familiar with them, they’re speaking a foreign language and you’re intimidated.

Media Contact

Mary M. Wood
Chief Communications Officer
wood@law.virginia.edu / (434) 924-3786

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