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Letter of Engagement: Professional

As a professional firm one of the first things that you will need to do when you take on a new client is provide them with your firm’s standard formal letter of engagement.

The text of this letter is usually divided into the smaller elements which you have to complete each time (the client details, work to be done, and the price) and the remainder which has been “set in stone” possibly quite a long time ago. In some firms client facing staff have no discretion to make changes for particular clients. In other firms these staff simply feel they have to make whatever changes the client requests in order to make the sale.

Very often the firm sees this letter of engagement as a necessary but uninteresting box ticking formality and invests little or no time in ensuring that the agreement has kept up with changes in the firm’s business model and professional service offerings. This can lead to clients being offered a very poor quality and out of date agreement with little relevance to the professional and highly relevant pitch that convinced them to choose your firm over its competitors.

Working with our professional clients we have seen them reap dividends from a modest investment in updating and developing their engagement letters and the internal process around issuing them.

Case Study: Our client was a professional firm pitching successfully to high value clients for a range of expensive and quite complex consulting work. Their engagement letter was the very basic template offered as a “freebie” on their professional association’s website. Our client’s old letter of engagement was just not meeting the expectations of their target customers (or their lawyers and procurement staff). This repeatedly led to constant questions and negotiations, at an early and delicate part of their customer relationships.

After working through what our client wanted to achieve in terms of “look and feel” and also in terms of legal protection our client now has a bespoke agreement which is designed to describe their very particular consultancy offering in terms that address the concerns of their target customer group and protect our client’s intellectual property, confidentiality and staff relationships.

Case Study: Our client was a professional firm with quite a large client facing sales force, using several client engagement letter templates that had been prepared by solicitors a number of years ago. Sadly, version control was a thing of the past, and some very harsh changes requested by clients had crept in and now appeared as part of the standard. Also the services described in the templates had changed almost beyond recognition. The letter did little to protect the firm’s position in relation to issues such as late payment, or a constant problem of unpaid “mission creep” in their clients’ requirements.

We worked with the firm’s team to clarify the details of their current service offering and pricing structures and we then updated and shortened the agreement. Importantly we recommended that the firm give ownership of these engagement letters to a key “gatekeeper” within the firm to promote consistency and allow decisions on client requests to be taken at the right level of seniority within the firm.

The firm is now successfully using the updated letter of engagement and have significantly reduced their legal expenditure, whilst already having identified some key risk issues that might otherwise have been missed.

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Jeffrey Orton
UK General Insurance Limited

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