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Professional connections: Playing the long game to build law firm links

Professional connections between advisers and solicitors can be mutually beneficial but it takes time and effort to get the best from these relationships

Relationships with law firms can be invaluable in bringing new business through advisers’ doors. Where their clients need financial advice, solicitors will want to recommend an adviser to save them from having to find one from scratch. However, as any personal recommendation will reflect on them, they will only recommend those they know and trust. So how do advisers become that contact?

Due diligence

As relationships cut both ways, it is important advisers do their homework on their prospective connections. FS Legal partner Julia Norris suggests advisers look at independent legal directories, The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners. “They offer an independent guide to law firms by specialism and geographical area based on reviews by clients and others within the industry,” she says.

Helping solicitors with inheritance tax and pensions

Client testimonials are regarded by Solicitors for Independent Financial Advice development director Dave Seager as one of the most valuable ways advisers can gain feedback on a potential connection.

“Any professional firm should be happy to allow you access to their clients to tell them about your service, in the same way you’d be comfortable allowing them to speak to some of the people with which you work,” he says.

“Online reviews can be useful, but it’s worth bearing in mind they don’t carry the same amount of credibility as feedback direct from a client.”

Making contact

Advisers can make initial contact with potential connections in several ways. Osbornes Law partner Joanne Wescott thinks LinkedIn is the most obvious. “But a direct approach and an informal chat over coffee works best. I want to see and meet who I am potentially sending my clients to,” she says.

Howard Kennedy head of family and private client Liz Palmer suggests starting with links between junior staff, which builds confidence and paves the way for more senior relationships over time.

At the first meeting, advisers might find it more productive to focus on how they can help their potential connection, rather than promoting their own services.

“Don’t say, ‘I’ve got a cracking service, would you be able to give some business to me?’ Instead, explain that this is the area you are working in and would they help you by giving an opinion on what you are doing?” says Wealth for Women founder Mary Waring.

“When I did this, I was just working on the basis that they didn’t know me, they weren’t going to give me referrals and if they didn’t like me, I was no worse off.”

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Some advisers who specialise in separation and divorce become accredited with family law organisation Resolution as they believe it opens doors with solicitors in providing proof of their expertise.

Whitewell Financial planning IFA Phil O’Connor, who runs specialist firm The Divorce IFA, says: “Resolution accreditation is an ice breaker. It’s not easy to get and it’s difficult to hold onto, but solicitors know you’ve put in the effort.”

Maintaining relationships

Once established, professional connections need nurturing. Forte Financial chief executive Sandro Forte believes some advisers fail to develop connections with law firms because their approach is wrong.

“They look for opportunities for themselves, rather than adopting a more collaborative approach,” he says. “Advisers need to remember that lawyers have the same marketing objectives: to find new clients. Since advisers can provide access to new clients, the approach should not be, ‘can you introduce your clients to me?’ but rather ‘can I introduce my clients to you?’”

Others feel it important to keep the lines of communication open with your connections.

“Occasionally, where a solicitor had asked me a general question, I would send an email to other solicitors that would say: ‘In case you come across this query, this is the answer’,” says Waring.

Is adviser networking worth it?

Regular meetings and social events are important to maintain links and remind each party of the value of the connection.

Thorntons Investments chief executive Stephen Webster says: “It is important to hold joint meetings with clients to ensure that those professional introducers can see the outstanding job advisers do.”

Beaufort Financial (Reading) director Mark Dolby adds that regular networking is important. “We arrange regular breakfast briefings for local professional introducers and seminars to which solicitors are invited, covering tax and pension planning, wills and trusts, for example. Recently a senior partner of a Legal 500 law firm said that she is never disappointed by our events and has told her colleagues to attend.”

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