Marketing to Private Clients (5) – Marketing to Existing Clients – Part I

 In Practice Management

Disclaimer: LawSkills provides training for the legal industry and does not provide legal advice to members of the public. For help or guidance please seek the services of a qualified practitioner.


There are four golden rules of marketing to existing clients. 

  1. Know your firm’s clients
  2. Keep your clients happy
  3. Keep in touch with clients
  4. Ask clients for more!


In very simple terms, this involves aiming to do the following:

  • know who your firm’s clients are; and
  • know what they need.

Despite boasts of some solicitors in private client departments who claim to remember every client in the past 20 years, most of us will admit to being fallible in this respect.

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With this in mind, if you really want to market successfully to existing clients, then your firm and department must have a client database. It should be regarded as the engine room of your marketing efforts.

I find it astonishing that in 2009, I am still recommending private client practitioners to create and utilise a database. Not because this idea is revolutionary but because 15 years ago I recommended exactly the same thing to firms who nodded and said, “Yes, we are working on that.” Many still are!

Ask and answer the planning questions

To understand more about your client, who they are and what they need, so that you can identify and plan marketing initiatives, it is worth asking and answering existing client “planning questions”.

Here are a few examples:

  • Exactly what specific services do you provide within the private client / probate department?
  • Do all past and current clients of the firm and your staff know of these services?
  • When a client makes a will, how often do you discuss the additional following services with them and to what extent do they then go ahead with the additional services, such as, lasting power of attorney; residential care related issues; and tax and estate planning?
  • When were you last in touch with past will clients about reviewing their wills?

Use the planning questions to quantify potential

The following quantification process and estimate is not an exact and precise science, but it is meant to make you think and give you some motivational leverage. If you can work out what the financial benefits might be, it is more likely to help prompt a determined action.

Quantification example:

Charles Nathan & Benjamin identified at least 3,000 clients in its other departments.

Research indicates that between 35-69 per cent of the adult population have not made a will. By applying this percentage to the firm of Charles Nathan & Benjamin, an estimated 1,050 – 2,070 of the firm’s clients would not have made a will. The potential minimum revenue, therefore, given the firm’s average charge for a simple will is £85, will be between £89,250 – £175,950. This is a significant market opportunity with an existing client-base. To whom will Charles Nathan & Benjamin’s competitors be marketing? Their existing and past clients! The potential revenue numbers become even greater when you consider that perhaps 50 per cent of these clients may name the firm as joint executor, which, in most cases, almost guarantees probate work at some stage.


If you want existing clients to do more business and recommend you to others, they need to have been happy with your service the first time around. While this seems obvious, many firms take it for granted, and the concept becomes something of a cliché. Few firms actually deal with the issue of client care as a marketing tool that needs to be focused in a structured way.

Private client practitioners should understand the distinction between technical quality and service delivery.

Technical quality and service delivery

Like it or not, clients will, on the whole, take your legal knowledge and skills for granted. As lay people, they are unable to judge whether your legal advice and drafting skills are good, bad or indifferent. They will judge you, your probate department and your firm based on the service delivery and whether they felt looked after properly.

As the concept of good service is a subjective one, I cannot lay down any hard and fast rules. However, the following “client care” and service related checklists may help stimulate discussion.

Client care checklists

Go through the following checklists to see how much work you really should do in each area. Rate your firm or department honestly by ticking the appropriate boxes:

Download checklists pdf here

Measure client satisfaction

In addition to the quality assessment checklists, the other half of the equation, of course, is to measure client satisfaction.

I have asked many probate department solicitors, “What do your clients think of your service?” The response is almost always the same: “I like to think they are pretty satisfied.” The operative phrase here, of course, is, “I like to think.”

Only a small percentage of firms actually monitor clients’ satisfaction on any kind of structured and regular basis. If you as a department don’t do this, then you absolutely need to embrace this idea.

Let me repeat the basic principle again. If you want an existing client to do more business with you and recommend you to others, then they need to have been happy with your service the first time around. It is essential to go through the process of asking your clients what they think of your service. The mere act of doing this is a way of keeping in contact, showing you care, helping them focus on the good things and, if there is any negative feedback, then at least this process helps flag it so that you can deal with it.

The technique that works best, concerning private clients is to distribute a simple questionnaire to clients when a matter has been completed.


Establish client ownership

There is a very simple formula to remember. The more often you communicate with your clients, the more work they, their families and friends will give you. However, this process of ongoing communication needs to be sensitive, tasteful and non-intrusive. The last thing you want to do is to irritate your clients by bombarding them with junk mail.

You should strive to achieve the concept of “client ownership”. Client ownership is the holy grail of marketing to existing clients, and it should be treated extremely seriously. You need to adjust your thinking and philosophy so that those for whom you previously worked are not regarded as past clients, but future clients with whom you have a continuing relationship, clients you own.

Your aim is to create the perception in the mind of the clients that you / your firm are their solicitor, and you achieve this when they know that you regard them as your client.

Putting your name in front of them on a regular basis, through some form of communication, goes a long way towards fostering this perception.

The importance of the ‘contact circle’

One of the other major benefits of establishing “client ownership” is that, once this is in place in the mind of the client, you begin to be introduced and recommended to their contact circle, the people they know.

When are you next in touch with your clients?

The following is a case scenario to make you think.

An elderly lady told me about the will she had made nine years ago. For various reasons, she wanted to make a new will. To the advantage of the firm who had prepared the original will, she felt she had to return to them to do it.

However, not having heard from them since and being unable to trace any paperwork or documents relating to them, she could not remember who the firm was. Eventually, she went to a different practice. They not only charged her for the will, but also were appointed as joint executor. Afterwards, the lady found some materials and discovered the name of the original firm and mentioned their name to me.

The irony is that I happen to know the firm currently spends heavily on advertising and marketing to win new clients. The firm was too busy trying to win new clients rather than retain the ones they already have. An occasional contact over this nine-year period may have secured their place in this lady’s mindset as being her solicitor.

Many solicitors complain that past clients go elsewhere. The truth is, however, that if your department or firm allows years to slip by without making any contact, you only have yourselves to blame when they can’t remember you, or are unaware of the other services that you might be able to offer them.

Are your clients aware of your other services?

Over the years, I have been involved in various research projects where I have interviewed past clients of a firm either over the telephone or face to face. One question I always ask is, “Since you last used the firm, have you had any need for legal services?” When I get the response that they have, I then ask if they have returned to the same firm. I am often told that this is not the case and when I ask why, on almost every occasion, I am given the same reason, “Oh, I didn’t know they did that!”

It might be obvious to you that you would offer a specific service, or at least specialise in a particular area, but there is no reason why a client, especially one that has had no contact with you for several years, should know. The only solution, of course, is to keep jogging their memory with your name and ensure they understand the full range of services you offer.


Practical tips on how to ask

Asking clients conversational questions and showing that you understand and take an interest in their situation is an easy way of getting them to consider areas of need that you may be able to service.

When meeting a past client, either in your office or at a seminar, do not underestimate the importance of “small talk” as a way of building rapport and gathering relevant information.

For example, if you are carrying out a will review discussion, you could ask them a very simple open question like, “If you were making your will now, would you do things any differently?” Questions like this simply get people thinking and talking, which is the aim.

Learn the two key selling questions

There are two key questions you can ask that work extremely well in most situations:

  1. “Have you considered what would happen if . . . ?” Put in this way, as a gentle and sincere question, the client is encouraged to address the issue. If they consider and deal with it effectively, then that is often the end of the matter. If, however, they express concerns or raise other questions, you now have the perfect opportunity to explain exactly what would happen if. You can then ask the following:
  2. “Well, would it be helpful if . . . ?” followed by what you want to offer them. The most likely answer to that question will be “yes”. In fact, it is hard for it to be a “no”.

If clients indicate they are prepared to move forward, deal with it then and there. If it can be progressed at that moment, then fix an appointment. Simply ask, “When is the best time for you?” Offer them two definite alternatives, and, in most cases, they will choose one of them.

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