An innovative and creative approach to client development – an interview with Catherine Hale, MinterEllison


I recently caught up with Catherine Hale, Industry Lead – Clients & Markets at MinterEllison and also my former colleague to discuss the Client Team Connector program she designed and developed, with the support of a fantastic team (which she describes as being instrumental to its success). We chatted about innovation and creativity more broadly and the key drivers for this program that won first place in the prestigious People and Skills category at the FT Asia Pacific Lawyer 2022 Awards.

The award is now in its ninth year and is a celebration of innovation and sustainability.

MinterEllison’s cutting-edge Client Team Connector program has seen the firm take bold new steps into the future of its approach to client experience.

Can you give us an overview of the program you have developed?

The program combines on-the-job client relationship building, service delivery, technical skills development, leadership, communication, client experience, and management. The program is designed for four-year plus lawyers and consultants and offers 18 months of client-centric modules working on-site with clients and alongside client relationship partners.

What are the drivers that led to the development of the program?

Traditionally lawyers’ training is focused on technical skills. There is less time spent on client engagement, rapport building, business and legal strategy and client management. Our Client Team Connector (CTC) program closes the gap in these much-needed skills to move lawyers and consultants from technicians to broader business advisors.

The program has on-the-job client learning and development rather than the theory of relationship management. Client interaction, addressing real-time industry and sector issues, relationship management are crucial components of all modules.

MinterEllison has a strong culture of innovation and curiosity.  Everyone is empowered to challenge the status quo.  Working in a high energy environment that encourages out of the box thinking and supports new ways of working is a contributing factor that helps makes important things happen.

What role did Business Development play in establishing and delivering this?

Business Development (BD) was integral to the program’s ideation, creation, development, testing and delivery. Our Business Development team brought valued and real-life client development insights and learnings from various industries, not just legal and professional services.

As the BD leader of our industries team and program, I led the creation of a cross functional team to develop the CTC program working closely with both my BD industry colleagues and our Learning and Development team. The program incorporates many elements of an MBA program, including leadership, negotiation and market analysis. This novel approach to training our lawyers and consultants has yielded fantastic results for both our people and clients.

We have developed a program designed for the specific needs of how our lawyers and consultants learn good practice client management based upon General Counsel and C-Suite needs and expectations. We have reshaped and rethought how the legal industry trains and equips the next generation of leaders.

Aside from the award recognition what other feedback have you had from lawyers?

The program has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from both our Client Relationships Partners and the lawyers who have completed the program and those completing the program.

They comment the program has pushed them to think about their future practice and the types of clients they want to work with. It has pushed them to think not only about being a lawyer and/or a consultant but also a business advisor and leader.

What advice do you have for others who might be wanting to develop a new approach to client development from scratch?

Don’t be constrained by existing ways of thinking. Recognising and trying innovative ways of addressing issues might present risks and cut against the grain. However, as our experience with the CTC program demonstrates, the reward for a bold initiative is well worth it.  Key advice is encourage your business development specialists to continually upskill.  The CTC program began for me when undertaking an Executive course with INSEAD, it created the spark which led to this award winning program.

What were the main hurdles to overcome?

Like any new approach, idea or program, you must bring people on the journey. You need sponsors who are in positions of influence and who see the vision. They need sponsors and participants who understand the purpose, inputs, outcome and impacts of the program.

You need to consult, co-design, test and learn. We are doing this still. Our program is recognised as innovative and market-leading, yet we are constantly adapting and making improvements. We are listening to feedback from those who have completed the program and also to the voice of our clients who are central to helping us build trust and meaningful partnerships for the future.

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