Business Development

AI and the future of client development

By March 20, 2024 March 30th, 2024 No Comments

While there’s no shortage of conversations around AI and the practice of law, what about its implications on client development?

As AI makes legal expertise more commoditized, the distinguishing value of a lawyer will increasingly hinge on their ability to build superior human relationships and their ability to harness the power of AI.

Which means we need to see AI through another lens. One way is to take the initials “AI” and reframe them to stand for “All In.” All In on
relationship building. All In on providing levels of service that turn clients into loyal fans. All In on developing nuanced understandings of niche practices, industries, and the client’s business. And All In on mastering AI from a practice and client development perspective to demonstrate that by working with you, clients can achieve competitive advantages.

With this perspective in mind, let’s play with our words again and shift the focus from “billable” hours to “buildable” hours, defined as the time spent building relationships and building your ability to use AI tools in ways that are superior to your competitors.

The following are a few of the skills, behaviors, and practices that can set lawyers apart from the crowd in this fast-approaching future.

The human factors

Be seen as a thought leader: Whether supported by AI or not, lawyers must become extremely knowledgeable in their fields to attract clients.

However, just knowing your area is not enough — lawyers must showcase their expertise to become the person that clients are looking for. You can demonstrate your knowledge by producing videos, podcasts, articles, tips, alerts and webinars. Audition for the work by speaking at conferences, industry groups, and in-house to clients, prospects and referral sources.

You can also use your thought leadership platforms as a reason to interview prospects for your topics, which allows you to build targeted relationships with high-value people.

Deliver “wow” levels of service: As certain legal services will be provided through AI, a differentiating factor will be the quality of the experience clients have working with the provider of that service. In short, lawyers must bring some “wow” to the game if they’re going to stand out from others.

Therefore, you have to make clients feel like they’re your most important client. Invest time to deeply understand their needs, expectations and business contexts, provide tailored advice and solutions, and be highly responsive. Do more than you’re asked, such as making introductions to people that can help them or offer training. Also, solicit and act on client feedback, which not only demonstrates your commitment to the relationship, but may also uncover new ways to provide additional services.

Build niche advisory/consulting skills: Clients still like talking to real people, especially in situations where they need an astute strategist to help them navigate challenging situations. The deeper the knowledge and understanding of nuanced areas, the more valued those skills will be. Gene Gilmore, director of professional development at Cooley LLP, observes that “While AI will play an important and increasing role in how lawyers serve their clients, there is no substitute for the value provided by a commercially-savvy counselor who can, for example, observe and advise a board.”

Invest in building authentic relationships: Lawyers will need to master the basic elements of developing authentic relationships. Mike Estell, director of learning and professional development at Goodwin, remarks, “Customers of a neighborhood barbershop can be fiercely loyal for decades, spurning the cheaper Supercuts that opens next door. Because it’s not about the haircut — it’s about the relationship. Lawyers need to appreciate that and learn to execute on the basic steps that drive the formation of authentic relationships and human connection with their clients. They can get the same haircut somewhere else, maybe cheaper. It’s not about the haircut.

AI enhanced advantages

Out-research your competitors: Lawyers are generally so busy with their legal work they don’t take the time needed to really learn about the clients. Therefore, before attending a meeting, invest time to deeply understand them, which demonstrates how important they are to you. This can be done using traditional research methods, and it can also be enhanced through AI. Labro Dimitriou, co-founder and CTO of Meta-forma labs, says, “AI can analyze vast amounts of data from a variety of sources to offer lawyers deep insights into their clients’ businesses, industries and the latest trends. By understanding the specific challenges and opportunities their clients face, lawyers can tailor their advice more effectively, providing a more personalized and valuable service.”

Become a better counselor and adviser: Clients come to you because you’re an expert. They expect advice beyond just the letters of the law. They want you to see around corners and become a strategic partner to help them achieve their overall goals. AI can help here as well, as explained by Jeffrey Grossman, co-founder and CEO of Meta-forma labs: “The use of predictive analytics in AI can help lawyers anticipate future industry trends and legal challenges that their clients may encounter. This foresight enables lawyers to offer proactive advice, helping clients to navigate potential issues before they arise and ensuring they are always a step ahead in their planning and strategy.”


As it’s always been with other industries, the introduction of AI technology will require lawyers to shift how they engage with their profession.

As AI reshapes the legal landscape, the value proposition of lawyers will increasingly depend on their ability to forge deep, meaningful relationships with clients. To stay ahead of your peers, you’ll need to know the law, make yourself known to the right people, become a valued counselor, provide outstanding personal service, and harness AI to offer data-driven insights. The lawyer of the future will provide the right blend of high-touch and high-tech that clients will demand.


This article was originally published by Law360 Canada, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.