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Lawyer-client trust: How to build it (and keep it)


Most people in business would agree that trust is a key component to generating – and retaining – clients. However, few could tell you the concrete steps and measurable actions needed to build it. Here, we assess some of the leading thoughts on trust-building in the legal industry and how you can put them into practice.


Trust is not a ‘squishy’ concept

In the best-selling book, The Trusted Advisor, authors Maister, Green and Galford famously proposed: ‘Trust is not a squishy, fog-sculpting “soft” concept – at least, it doesn’t have to be.’

They believe that trust is founded on four concepts that can be put into action to see economic improvements within any business.  The factors are:

  1. Credibility: the existing reputation and trust your business has, which might be based on reviews, previous positive media or your online presence (website, social media pages, etc)
  2. Intimacy: the empathy and authenticity in your interactions and the effort you put in getting to know your clients on a deeper level
  3. Reliability: that you deliver what you say you will – when you say you will
  4. Self-orientation: the degree to which you focus on your own organisation’s goals versus your client’s goals

The authors’ equation shows how these factors interact:

Trustworthiness = (Credibility x Reliability x Intimacy)/Self-orientation


Initial trust vs a lasting relationship

Joel Barolsky, Teaching Fellow from The College of Law and Managing Director of Barolsky Advisors, has reviewed The Trusted Advisor equation – and suggests it needs tweaking.

He believes that, although credibility, intimacy and self-orientation are important factors in establishing a new relationship, they don’t capture how to maintain trust in an existing relationship.

With long term clients, he argues that more important factors for enduring trust are:

  • Understanding: knowing your client’s needs, business and industry
  • Value for money: fair value for what you’re delivering
  • Affinity: mutual respect and liking
  • Complacency: whether you stop putting in effort after you win your client’s business – or you continue exploring new ways to deliver value


Key takeaways

  • Establishing a new relationship
  1. Ensure the credibility of your organisation is visible (look especially at how your online presence can convey your firm’s trustworthiness)
  2. Be Under-promise and over-deliver’ is a good rule to live by.
  3. Be genuine and employ empathy when getting to know your prospect so you can develop
  4. Don’t be overly self-orientated. Focus on helping, not selling.
  • Maintaining a long-term relationship
  1. Never stop furthering your understanding of your client and their industry.
  2. Reliability isn’t just for when you want to first get your client’s business. It’s a long-term commitment.
  3. Make sure you provide your client with good value by charging a fair price for your service.
  4. Be respectful and show genuine interest in your client to build an affinity with them.
  5. Don’t become complacent with the service you’re delivering. Neglected clients will soon become someone else’s


Looking to improve your client relationships?

Now that you know the key factors involved in creating and maintaining trust, let us show you how to strategically put these ideas into practice.

The College of Law’s six-week course Building trusted client relationships: Strategy and practice design will teach you how to become a trusted advisor and develop a client management plan.

This subject is part of the College’s newly formed Master of Legal Business – an innovative postgraduate course to help make leaders future ready. If you're interested in improving your client relationships, enquire today.