One of the most effective ways to boost law firm income – if implemented properly

I was recently asked to present a training session on cross-selling to a law firm client of mine. I’ve deliberately not used that terminology in the title of this article as I don’t think the term cross-selling helps lawyers at all, as I will explain shortly, but the concept should.

In order to generate work for the firm as a whole when clients instruct a particular fee earner or department, three things are required.

  • The fee earner should have their radar on – another term I don’t like but it fits here;
  • There must be knowledge; and
  • There must be trust.

Radar

Essentially, this means that fee earners must be aware of their client and their client’s needs. To do this, and to provide best service regardless, fee earners should take time to get to know their clients, to understand their issues and their objectives.  Good open questions will permit this. Taking this approach also helps to generate a huge amount of good feeling from the client and generates repeat business for the fee earner and also referrals and recommendations.

When a fee earner totally understands a client, they are in a very powerful position to advise on solutions. Part of the solution may need to be provided by another fee earner or department.

Knowledge

Knowledge is required in three areas – of the client; of the services the firm provides; and of other people in the firm.

How can such knowledge be built?

Knowledge of the client is generated by the radar approach described above, but also, particularly if a key client, by arranging regular meetings with them.

Internal sessions are vital for generating knowledge of the services the firm provides and also of the people within the firm. Sessions such as those I presented at for the law firm client of mine referred to above will help fee earners to understand the importance; to understand how to go about it; and to gain the confidence.

Additional totally internal sessions are arguably more valuable. Update presentations from one department to others on hot topics will help the firm as a whole to understand how colleagues can help their clients.

Inter-department brainstorming sessions of particular key clients also help. It takes time and effort to gather the key people to such meetings, but it can be extremely worthwhile. Many firms will have key recurring clients that provide repeat instructions to certain departments. They will at some point require other legal services and they may or may not raise that need with the firm. They may even go elsewhere because of a lack of perceived expertise for the other requirement from their usual firm. 

That situation can be avoided by the main contact fee earner’s knowledge of the client being passed to other fee earners in other departments. A discussion of the issues and objectives of the client will more often than not elicit ideas and suggestions of how the law firm can help the client to achieve their objectives or solve their problems. 

If the fee earner then contacts the client to run through the issue and the proposal, a favourable response should be received. Even if the client decides not to proceed with the proposal, it will have sowed a seed and will build confidence in both the fee earner and the firm as a whole.

As well as responding to known situations as described above, many fee earners appreciate the standardisation of questions to ask and suggestions to make in particular circumstances. This is entirely possible for certain services. For example if a firm is acting in a divorce matter, a standard question could be to ask whether the client’s will needs to be updated.

In order to generate such standard questions, inter-department head meetings can be held to describe how they each act for clients in certain circumstances and the other department heads can then suggest hooks that would lead to them also providing assistance to the client.

Standardising includes standard take on forms, standard questions during the process and standard completion meeting checklists. Standardising allows you to be organised, but the trick is not to let it appear that it is a tick-box exercise. The client needs to feel that they are simply receiving a good service, with their interests at heart. If the fee earner knows or feels that a particular question isn’t appropriate, then they shouldn’t ask it. 

Trust

The client needs to trust their lawyer and the lawyer needs to trust their colleagues.

Trust from the client is built from acting in their best interests and listening to them.

Trust in colleagues is built by a variety of measures including office social activities; department update sessions; and publicising success stories. If a fee earner has delivered a good result for a client, or has won new work for the firm; then it should be celebrated within the firm and the details circulated.

Of course, as well as knowledge and trust, some will always need a gentle nudge to help the firm and their colleagues.  Having incentive schemes and targets to be included within the appraisal process can help with that. If targets and rewards are to be used, then there needs to be a system to record inter-department solutions provided to clients. 

Cross-selling

I don’t like selling.  I don’t like people selling to me.  I can therefore quite understand why fee earners do not respond well when asked to cross-sell. I can also understand why clients would not want to ‘buy’ if they feel that they are being sold to.

That is where the term cross-selling doesn’t help.  It can appear as selling if a fee earner methodically runs down a list of questions that are clearly designed to part the punter from their hard earned cash.  It can also appear as selling if a fee earner immediately provides a solution to every one of the client’s issues as soon as they have mentioned each one.

A far better approach is to ask open questions, listen to the answers, take notes, summarise at appropriate points, replay the issues back to the client at the end and then deliberate as the trusted adviser before either suggesting matters to take further, or agreeing to think about it and then following up over the next few days with a combined solution to all of the issues. If presented as a package, of which the client can clearly see benefits, they are more likely to agree to the solution.

The fee earner will also have given the client excellent service and as a result the fee income in other departments will grow.  

So, I don’t like cross-selling, but I do like the concept. The trouble is, I’ve not quite managed to generate alternative terminology that I’m happy with either. I would prefer to look at it as simply providing the client with a good service.

Cross-selling – Providing a good service

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