No man is an island, entire of itself.
As an entrepreneurial lawyer, the success you achieve in your law firm (or conversely, your failure) depends largely on the choices you make. However, no one achieves success alone. Without support of outside vendors, reliably supplying services and materials, a firm won’t survive—simple as that. For that reason alone, some of the most important choices you’ll make are how you manage your vendor relationships.
What do we mean by “vendor?” As with any business, a vendor is any third party who provides a product or service that you don’t generate on your own.
For a law firm, you likely have two categories of vendors. You have those who directly impact the work of your practice—for example, court reporters, private investigators, process servers, printers, transcription services, and videographers.
And you have those who help you operate the business more efficiently: accountants, custodians, IT professionals, office equipment suppliers, temp staffing agencies, and so on.
But no matter which category a vendor falls into, the vendor is still critical to your firm’s success.
Why Focus on Vendor Relationships?
One reason why we need to address this topic specifically is that attorneys actually have a negative reputation among many vendors. Lawyers are frequently viewed as egotistical, micromanaging, difficult to please and quick to lay blame. In fact, the American Bar Association says as many as 25 percent of tech industry service providers simply refuse to do business with law firms—because they’re so difficult. And vendors who do work with firms, they say they charge more money to law offices than to other clients.
Suffice it to say if a vendor agrees to work with you, they’re choosing to overlook some of those biases. It’s up to you to prove them right—by treating them right. Otherwise, you’ll spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with turnover, and your momentum will keep grinding to a halt.
Tips for Taking Good Care of Your Vendors
How can you build solid, lasting relationships with suppliers and service providers? Consider the following:
- Establish relationships in writing. As a lawyer, you advise your clients to get everything in writing. Practice what you preach. It may seem formal, but it also clarifies your expectations and the vendor’s responsibilities—and good communication is half the battle.
- Respect their expertise. You’ve got better things to do with your time than to micromanage someone better at his job than you are. When you hire a vendor, trust that vendor to do his job, and only raise issues that truly negatively impact your firm.
- Be gracious and generous. Goodwill and affirmation go a long way toward generating vendor loyalty. Thank vendors regularly for hard work. Tip individuals when appropriate. Give them gifts and bonuses at holidays. Recommend them to other firms.
The return on these small investments will come back manifold. Because most vendors are honest, hardworking professionals who will go the extra mile for your law firm when you invest in the relationship. Treat them well, and they’ll be there to provide the critical support you need for success.