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  • Ruth Napier

A gardener’s guide to client relationships

Whilst situation/aspect, sun/shade, damp/dry, soil and space requirements are all key considerations for plants, a well thought out approach to clients and key account management is equally important for a law firm.

Having the right relationship manager and account team in place are only the start of getting the most out of time spent nurturing relationships.

Like the plants in your garden, not all clients are the same and have different needs. So what are the main client types and how might you adjust your relationship management strategy for each?

Here's a quick guide to the different client types and some key pointers on how to manage them - alongside the plant types they most closely match.

Plant types

Client types


Cultivated in large numbers from seed and thinned after germination.

Sow direct into soil or germinate in greenhouse/cold frame/window ledge. Seedlings often available in packs from nurseries .

May require particular treatment to encourage germination.

Transactional clients

Often needed in large numbers

Sometimes tend to shop around

May come direct or be referred by an intermediary

Improve conversion by tailoring to critical points in their buying cycle

If low value/volume, avoid high investment, sow thinly and keep an eye on margins.


Need feeding and periodic maintenance. May need dividing when getting leggy/less productive

Repeat clients - small

Often private client or small businesses.

Need regular light touch contact programme, to ensure they feel loved.

May blossom further.


Great for filling up empty spaces in newer gardens.

Spread freely under the right conditions.


Accountants, banks, consultants, other lawyers are all potential referrers and are important relationships when starting out.

Nurture the good ones.

Bushes and shrubs

Established: Pruning and feeding according to type.

Keep snow off/protect if vulnerable to weather damage.

New: follow planting advice and watering (esp year 1)

Repeat clients - medium

Often with increasing expenditure YoY.

Likely to be businesses or family offices.

Established: Need annual contact,

Watch out for changes in decision maker/ownership or other threats.

New: check in regularly, review formally at end of year 1


New: staking & protection, adequate space

Established: Annual inspection according to type. Maintenance: pollarding, pruning, crown reduction

Top risks to mitigate: disease, limb loss, planting too closely (account for size and spread)

​Long term established clients

Multi practice, usually businesses

Relationships can grow and evolve over many years and into decades.

Keys to success: Account management team, annual review and client listening/regular feedback. Regular communications.

Top risks to mitigate: key personnel changes on either side, change in strategy, M&A, external investment


Plants in the wrong place or troublesome/invasive species.

Various controls.

Toxic clients

Lossmaking, overly difficult or excessively time-consuming clients can drain energy and momentum. Prune with care. Sometimes you can use your firm culture and values to part company with them.

To keep my garden looking good, I'm usually out there at weekends pruning, feeding, tieing-in, propping up, weeding and generally trying to make the plants perform at their best. Segmenting clients into client types helps your lawyers and client teams better understand how to get the best out of the relationship, and importantly, where to focus their BD time and budget.

Like many of us, I recognise that sometimes I need help: that's the time to bring in the specialists whether for design, hard landscaping, tree-work, or for projects that are beyond my capability to deliver successfully. And sometimes even to mow the grass!

If your BD or client relationship programme isn't working as well as you want it to and growth is stagnating, then its time to get in some expert help. An experienced consultant can undertake an objective review, identifying what’s working and what needs changing, and create a roadmap to get the optimal structure, processes, systems and training in place for your business to grow,

Look out for part 3 in this series, coming soon : Key account management

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