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Every day we get emails sharing content and thought-leadership. A lot of the time we mark them as ‘to be read at a later date’. When the wonderful people at Right Hat, a US-based marketing agency specialising in legal and professional services emailed us, however, we clicked on to read what they had to say. Frankly, anything coming out of Right Hat is going to be interesting.

A new guide based on a survey of in-house counsel, published as How to Win and Protect Client Relationships in the Age of Remote Engagement, has been produced by Greentarget, the Zeughauser Group, and Right Hat. It has provided some enlightening information both for firms with existing connections to in-house lawyers and for those looking to make them.

The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the way in which law firms conduct their business has been profound. At a stroke, the busy timetable of face-to-face meetings was brought to a juddering halt, and firms were compelled to try a multitude of new approaches to stay connected with existing clients and be spotted by potential new ones. This new survey shows that more than two thirds of in-house lawyers respond to substantive communications from firms with whom they work already, and will do similarly with new firms that can deliver actionable guidance.

Let’s take a look at some of the survey’s findings. 84% of in-house lawyers have received phone calls from outside counsel during the pandemic, 68% found this of great value, and 31% are open to communications from firms introduced to them by friends and colleagues. If you can get your firm recommended to a potential new client, 83% would respond to communications from you. 28% are likely to do so for an unsolicited communication, which may seem to be a dramatic reduction but the chances of getting a response increase greatly if the communication covers topical issues and includes actionable guidance. Here the guide really comes into its own.

The survey has examined preferred methods of first communication, and has found the good, old-fashioned phone call still to be the best. A personal email comes in second, with various other means then ranked. The preferences change slightly for subsequent communications, once a relationship has been established.

So, if your firm is looking to develop relationships with in-house lawyers, what does the survey tell you about the best ways to get noticed? In short, a lot. The second part of the guide concentrates on this area and gives clear to follow advice on how to stand out in a crowded inbox. Most in-house lawyers respond best to communications that contain substantive legal or business information, cover topical issues, provide actionable guidance, and convey urgency and a need for action. Other tips for generating responses are also covered. For example, 56% of counsel surveyed said they respond to communications providing information that is relevant to their company’s legal or business situation, so the main advice here is to ensure your communications are clearly focused.

Choosing substance over entertainment appears to be a sound course of action. 51% of surveyed counsel are not interested in virtual social events, 40% don’t want to engage with lawyers this way, and a mere 12% show any real interest in virtual social events at all. Rather than communications that attempts to entertain, they much prefer those that have something meaningful to say on pressing legal issues and there is a definite desire to read more about matters such as diversity, equity and inclusion.

The booklet concludes with a seven-point checklist setting out a method for communication that is most likely to engender responses.

The guide is fairly short – a mere 13 pages – but a lot of useful information and sound advice is packed into those pages. The pandemic has caused many businesses to struggle. There are definite opportunities out there, but there is also a lot of competition, so the question is less about whether you should read this guide and more about whether you can afford not to.