Mark WoolleyThe 2015 Financial Review Client Choice award winners were recently announced and among them was Mark Woolley (pictured left) from McInnes Wilson, winner of the award for most client focused lawyer based on independent feedback from dozens of his clients.

I had the distinct pleasure of spending an hour with Mark to find out why he thinks he won – and what exactly it is that he does that makes his client’s rate him so highly.

What did I find? As is normal for most people who are great at building relationships, Mark has a very low self-orientation, and didn’t take any credit for the win himself but passed on all credit to the firm and his team. I also discovered that Mark has spent so long focusing on the importance of relationships and how to build them, that he now just sees it as common sense and assumes it’s just the way everyone operates. In fact, he even went as far as to say to me ‘Isn’t this just the way everyone does things?’

Unfortunately, no.

Here are a few other insights Mark had to offer:

Keith: So what do you think is behind your success?
Mark: I think there are two main things. Firstly, the whole firm has a BD centric culture. Even our new graduates have clear BD expectations in their KPIs. Secondly, the nature of my work means that we have to provide exceptional service to our clients. We don’t have time to keep in contact through having coffee and the like between matters given the sheer volume of client numbers, so everyone in the team knows they have two responsibilities: to provide exceptional service when working on a matter, and to be on the front foot when it comes to door knocking and building relationships.

Keith: Whilst that approach may seem common sense to you, that attitude is actually not common in professional services. What do you put it down to?
Mark: If I look back a decade or so, we had leadership in place who recognised that relationships had to be our differentiator and that BD was everyone’s responsibility. I have been here since I graduated from University and this was drummed into me from day one. We also recognise as a firm that different divisions will have boom times and difficult times over any given period, therefore we all work together to help each other out. I also suspect that only about 20% of what I do is actually about the law. Most of my conversations are about the client’s business and industry. Providing commercial ideas and advice are critical.

Keith: I see many firms, when times get tougher, falling into the trap of focusing on responding to RFPs even when they have little or no chance of winning (sometimes even at a loss). What is McInnes Wilson’s approach to bidding?
Mark: Generally speaking we only bid if we have the right relationship before the RFP is issued. There are exceptions but they are rare. We need to focus on relationships before any RFP is issued. That whole proposal process is so painful, expensive and demoralising. We should only get involved in it if we have a relationship with the client and a very good chance of winning.

Keith: You’ve talked a lot about the importance of client service, and mentioned response times as being a key aspect of this, but what else would you say are the three things you do that you think create exceptional client service?
Mark: Firstly, I would say taking the time to understand a client’s business and the importance of how a transaction fits into the success or otherwise of that business. Second, it’s consistency of service across the firm. For example, I need need to ensure they experience the same response from my team as they do from me (or in fact from all divisions in the firm if they need to be referred for work). And lastly I’d say being available. Some client’s just need to talk issues through and emails/letters won’t work for them!

Keith: So how often do you actually have to go out and find new business as opposed to getting repeat and referral work?
Mark: We’re always looking for new work and referrers of work, but we find that our time is best spent cultivating our relationships with existing clients and referrers. They are our best source of good quality referrals and repeat business and gives instant credibility to an interaction with a potential new client rather than a ‘cold call’.

When I asked Mark how business was right now, he reflected that the
last 5 years have seen incredible growth. He attributes this partly to having a great technical reputation in one part of the firm, and partly to the relationships they have with their clients. And that is what sets a leading business apart – they will recognise that their technical ability is critical, but their very essence and culture must be focused on building and having trusted relationships, both internal and external, from new graduate to senior partner.

Congratulations Mark.

Mark Woolley has been a lawyer with McInnes Wilson for over 12 years and is a Principal in their Commercial team, based in Brisbane. You can find him on LinkedIn here.