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Bar News - September 5, 2008

Should Clients Be Your Friends?


Last month, David Maister posed a thought-provoking question on his blog: "Should friends be clients and should clients be friends?" I was intrigued by his response to this question.

Maister said: "I would vote ‘no’ for both cases. For me, there’s all the difference between knowing how to be friendly with clients and actually being friends who socialize regularly."

While I usually agree with Maister’s advice, on this issue I couldn’t disagree more. I absolutely believe friends can be clients without sacrificing the friendship. In fact, I discussed asking friends for business in a previous newsletter article, What Are Friends for Anyway?

When it comes to the flip side—can clients become friends—I feel similarly strongly about the answer. Many of my closest friends started out as clients. From sharing an update on professional and personal issues during an early morning walk to exchanging our favorites at a photography exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art or lamenting our frustration with weight loss at Canyon Ranch, both my work and personal life have been much enriched by these friendships.

There are lots of reasons I think having clients as friends works so well:

• When my friends who are clients talk about their work, I gain a perspective that helps me better understand the world in which all my clients live.

• I can talk about my business with them and they get it completely.

• They give me honest feedback about my work, my marketing and my hypotheses about the legal world which helps me improve my services. (It’s not easy to come by honest, informed feedback!)

• Work is more fun when you work with friends.

• In my busy life, I don’t have nearly enough time to spend with friends. If there were no overlap between the two groups, I’d have even less "friend time."

• And let’s face it, there’s nothing like having a friend in your corner, coaching and advocating on your behalf, when it comes to getting hired by [his/her] firm.

And I’d like to think that my friends who are also clients reap similar benefits from the dual nature of our relationship as well.

When I asked some of my client-friends what they thought about this issue, I noticed a trend: women agreed with me, men were ambivalent. One of my female clients went so far as to say: "If my clients couldn’t be my friends, I’d be pretty lonely, and if my friends couldn’t be my clients my book of business would be miniscule!"

But when I asked a male client what he thought about this issue, he was much more ambivalent. Intriguingly, this view was reinforced by the posts responding to Maister’s original question. Of the 20 comments on the question, all from men, only a few thought clients should be friends.

So where do you stand on this issue? I would love to hear your perspective.

From my perspective, if you conclude that your clients can’t be your friends, you may be missing out on a rewarding personal and business development opportunity. After all, as I say often, strong personal relationships are at the core of strong client relationships!

Sara Holtz is a marketing consultant. Her firm, ClientFocus, concentrates on helping successful lawyers become successful rainmakers. Contact the author at: or to read articles, go to

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