If you’re part of a compensation system that rewards you for forming client relationships more so than for doing the actual work of the law, you may find yourself as the originating partner on a case that doesn’t fit your personal expertise. While you may not be qualified to handle the matter itself, there are important ways for you to add value as the person at the firm who knows that client best.
Many attorneys make the mistake of disappearing into the woodwork by default, assuming they should step aside because the work doesn’t fall within the scope of their usual practice. Instead, how you split the work should be a conscious decision. Over time, this may lead you to turn the client over to another lawyer at the firm who has by then been in contact with them more day-to-day, but this shouldn’t be your starting point.
Taking yourself out of the equation off the bat is likely to hurt the relationship by making your client feel neglected. If you brought in the business, you should be available and attentive as the first line of defense when it comes to client concerns. You should be involved in the billing process, reviewing the pre-bill, articulating to the client the firm’s strategy, and encouraging the other lawyers doing the work to tell you of any issues as soon as they arise.
Even if you don’t know the specialty that your client currently requires, you understand the strategic issues. You’re perfectly capable of communicating these to the client and serving as an early warning system if they are unsure or dissatisfied in any way. You can be proactive in taking charge of communications internally and externally, keeping tabs on the firm’s responsiveness to client questions and anticipating problems before they come up.
As the originating partner, your role in managing the client relationship is hugely valuable to the success of the whole endeavor. And as many law firms are cutting back partner compensation in response to the COVID-19 crisis, it is crucial for a lawyer to maintain their status as the originating partner.