Managing Evolving Client Relationships Remotely

By Haley Altman on April 1, 2020
Haley Altman

As General Manager of Transaction Management at Litera, Haley Altman is responsible for leading the transaction management effort as part of the company’s revenue team. She uses her extensive experience as an entrepreneur and former lawyer to understand the technology, processes and workflows required to help customers successfully complete transactions with less stress and risk, while maximizing client satisfaction.

Litera’s business continuity series dives into the unprecedented challenges we are all facing and looks at how technology can help provide what law firms need to continue serving their clients, even while their teams are working remotely, unable to travel or meet face-to-face with clients, and otherwise disrupted from their regular routines. You can find the introduction here and part two, about working remotely, here.

As law offices continue to close in response to the coronavirus pandemic, individual lawyers have to adjust to working remotely while helping clients navigate an incredibly challenging time.

Fortunately, lawyers are quite adept at juggling conflicting needs and pressures— it’s a hallmark of the legal profession..

However, this pandemic has stretched many lawyers past the bounds of that stoic facade. Businesses face incredible challenges as revenue slows and the world becomes more conservative about spending. Critical investments that seemed certain, deals projected to close in the next month, payroll obligations coming due, vendor relationships and contracts are all impacted by the pandemic. Some businesses will not survive, deals may be scrapped, and investments might be delayed. Clients need more than just legal counsel. How you can maintain your client relationships under the weight of this extraordinary stress? How can you be there for your clients when you literally can’t be there? My advice is this: think broader about how you can advise your clients, think about what you can do.

Here are four meaningful ways that can help you manage and add value to your client relationships during the coronavirus crisis.

1. Understand that legal advice can impact business decisions.

Much attention has been given to force majeure clauses that allow businesses to terminate contracts under extraordinary measures, with technology emerging to allow teams to find and understand these clauses. However, in a connected world, it is important to understand and think through the overall impact of exercising these provisions in addition to navigating many different challenges currently faced by clients. How best can you help position your client for success in the future? Do you understand the depth of their relationships and business needs that you can help guide them through these critical decisions?

Help clients identify key relationships that need to be preserved and maintained for future success of the business. Rather than terminating contracts, what approaches can they take to maintain relationships long term. Understand how they can leverage options from the Federal stimulus bills to maintain business continuity. Help them understand how they might think through ways to conserve cash flow without negatively impacting business reputation.

2. Use tools to communicate effectively.

Face to face meetings with white boarding sessions are still possible if you leverage collaboration and communication tools to connect with your clients and can help you better gauge client response and receptiveness. 

Project management tools can help you map out business milestones and key action items to pursue with each option. For example, if an investment transaction is put on hold, what is the current runway, at which inflection point do you add additional cash flow restrictions and what do you need to share with current investors to pursue smaller internal rounds. For clients navigating exit strategies, you can leverage collaboration tools to better assess options and identify next steps together in real time.

That said, you do need to maintain security around your clients’ information. Work with your firm on getting VPN access for sensitive transfers and ensure your email is secure.

3. Empathize with your clients.

Listening to your clients is critical right now. They need to be able to share all their concerns with you. You have an opportunity to build enduring trust with clients by taking the time to really understand their concerns, issues and needs.  Be proactive about keeping in touch so your clients don’t have one more thing to worry about. This isn’t just about keeping your clients posted; it’s about reassuring them that you are there for them and on the job.

Note that I’m talking here about communicating on a one-to-one basis, not sending generic email blasts to your entire client list. Everyone is getting enough of those communications already! Keep in touch but focus your messages on your clients’ needs rather than your efforts to stay operational. Your communications should be effective and efficient, which will ensure that they’re responsive to your clients’ concerns while also being respectful of their time. Don’t overlook the power of connecting with your clients on a human level. You have the opportunity to deepen relationships even while physically separated.

4. Keep your clients’ deals moving.

It’s just a reality of the unsettled economic forecasts that some deals may be delayed, postponed, or canceled altogether. But you can help keep them organized, on track and accelerate closing.

I built Doxly—which is now Litera Transact—out of frustration with how slow, tedious, and paper-based transactions were. Those drawbacks are only accentuated now. For deals that get put on hold, it is hard to comb through emails and notes of conversations to find an accurate picture of where you left off. Physical signatures require in-person contact with paper packets and often with the couriers who deliver them. These contacts can increase individuals’ risk of exposure to coronavirus, reverse efforts at social distancing, and interrupt required quarantine or seclusion periods for those who may have been exposed.

Typical signature packet assembly also requires printers and scanners that can handle large volumes of paper. With transaction management tools, you can decrease time and the physical tools required for creating signature packets, tie seamlessly into digital signature tools and create electronic closing books which allow deals to be completed without the delays or the potential exposures associated traditional closing measures.

Yes, this is undoubtedly a difficult episode in our personal histories, but with the current state of technology, lawyers can continue to serve their clients through it. By accessing documents and other information remotely, holding meetings virtually, and eliminating the need to physically sign or mail transaction documents, you can maintain and even strengthen your client relationships.

This last point is so important—and the consequences in terms of human health risk so critical—that Litera is offering a lite version of Litera Transact free for six months. This version will allow lawyers to keep their clients’ deals on track by creating checklists, assembling closing books, and obtaining signatures digitally. That means no face-to-face contact, no paper, no couriers, no mailing, and no trips into the office.

In part four of our series, we’ll take a closer look at how lawyers can streamline their manual processes—or do away with them altogether—in their new #wfh reality. If you missed it, you can find the introduction to our business continuity series here and last week’s post on how to help lawyers work remotely here.

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