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Cross-selling: the Unicorn of the practice of law

Have you ever wondered why so many lawyers refer matters to lawyers outside of their firms when there are lawyers inside their firms who have the experience and expertise to handle them? Making it all the more puzzling is the fact that it would often be to that lawyer’s financial advantage to refer the matter internally instead of externally.

Why this happens and how to achieve greater success in cross-selling among lawyers in firms is something that law office management spends a great deal of time thinking about.

So, what is it? Why do so many lawyers refer matters outside of their firms when they could refer them to great lawyers inside their own firms?

There are two major impediments to cross-selling success. One lies in the experience of the lawyer making the introduction or referral and one lies in the client’s experience when being introduced or referred.

The lawyer’s experience

The unfortunate truth is that many lawyers working in the same firm don’t know each other very well. They share space and administrative costs and duties, but they often don’t have relationships with each other that are deep enough that they trust each other, respect each other or, in fact, even know each other’s practices well enough to comfortably introduce or refer clients to one another.

By comparison, many of us do have relationships with lawyers outside of our firms that are sufficiently deep on all those same verticals that we feel comfortable investing the personal capital we have in our relationships with our clients and connections to introduce or refer them to our external lawyer connections.

 The client’s experience

Clients can feel uncomfortable when lawyers offer them introductions to other lawyers in their firms who have expertise in a field in which the lawyer believes the client may use legal services. Unless it is connected to a need the client has specifically identified and talked with the lawyer about, these kinds of introductions can seem random and opportunistic.

Opportunistic introductions to their internal colleagues are often what people imagine when they hear the phrase “cross-selling,” and handled improperly, they can feel to clients and connections like what they often are: up-selling. If your clients and connections feel like you are up-selling them, there is a risk that the suspicion created in that context will seep into other aspects of your relationship.

Cross-selling properly = connecting

All of the above, and probably more, leads to a situation in which both lawyers and clients are left feeling uncomfortable with internal referrals (a.k.a. cross-selling).

As we have discussed before in many business development contexts, you will meet with greater success in cross-selling if you change your paradigm away from thinking about what you will be “getting” from the referral and toward what you are “giving.”

If you are authentically engaged in the mandate of solving problems for your clients and connections, you are going to run across problems that fall outside of your field of professional endeavour. One of the best ways to create value and opportunity for others is to introduce them to the people who can help them solve problems that go beyond your skillset. The people to whom you make those introductions may well be members of your firm. In that context, “cross-selling” is just one manifestation of connecting, which is a fundamental aspect of great networking and generally accepted as positive and beneficial to the parties being connected.

If you are genuine in your intention to make connections between people that provide value and opportunity to both, any connections you make, including those to other lawyers inside your firm, will generally not be burdened by the stigma of “up-selling” and, in fact, they are likely to be welcomed and appreciated.

But the underlying principles have to be that you:

•    understand your client’s issues deeply enough to line up the right people to help them;

•    trust and respect the person/people to whom you are referring them; and

•    genuinely believe that they will be best served by the person/people to whom you are sending them.

The connection cannot be a compromise you are making because the referred lawyer is a member of your firm.

If you want to optimize your ability to successfully engage cross-selling with other lawyers in your firm, you and your colleagues should take the time to really get to know each other, develop a clear and mutual understanding of the value that each of you brings to what you do and grow to trust and respect each other. A word of warning though: This won’t work unless the relationships are in place before the referral opportunities arise. So lawyers have to invest this time in advance of, not in response to, an opportunity presenting itself.

When it comes to lawyers referring their clients and connections, there is no shortcut, no workaround and no financial incentive that will trump a strong, loyal, trusting relationship with the person to whom they are sending their clients and contacts. Lawyers who consistently take the initiative and make the effort it takes to create and maintain genuine, loyal relationships with the talented lawyers inside their own firms will significantly increase their chances of cross-selling effectively.


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