Charity Begins at Home

A newly minted partner that I know, was hit with the realization that while she has a robust group of clients, she can no longer look to her firm to send her work as they did when she was an associate. Lisa knows that developing new business is now completely up to her. She also now has a responsibility to make sure that associates in her medium-sized firm are given sufficient work that they too are profitable.

When Lisa looks at her marketing plan, it includes all the right activities. She regularly contacts existing and old clients. She gives client seminars and sends out legal up-dates. She takes clients – current and prospective – out for lunch. She sits on a board. She speaks at conferences and writes articles. However, all this good business development activity is not growing her practice as much as she would like. She wonders if there is anything else she can do.

The one area that Lisa has over-looked is her own firm. I asked her whether her firm does much cross-selling. While she says that it is encouraged, she rarely hears of lawyers in her firm introducing new clients to other partners. If it happens at all, it is because the client has specifically asked for help on a new matter and has been referred to another lawyer for assistance. She is not aware of a partner initiating a conversation with a client that would lead to work for another partner. 

Lisa believes that all her colleagues are so busy that they simply don’t have time to be proactive in helping other partners gain new clients. While the partners are always encouraging their associates to look for new clients for the firm, she doesn’t think that the partners model this behavior with respect to helping the firm – and not just their individual practice – attract new clients. Nor is there any monetary incentive by way of originating credits for partners who bring in new clients for other partners. This is a firm where partners work independently missing the benefit of a team or firm approach to marketing their joint practices.

Lisa also wonders if the partners are somewhat protective of their clients and almost afraid that if another partner forms a relationship with the client, the client may prefer the new lawyer. I said that while that might happen within the same practice group, there should be little concern if the second partner works in an entirely different area of law. 

When I suggested that Lisa could start cross-selling within her firm even if no one else were doing so — she was uncertain even where to begin. As her firm’s most junior partner, she didn’t yet feel comfortable bringing this up at a partners’ meeting and asking her colleagues for support. If she did raise the issue, she wasn’t certain what to suggest to make cross-selling happen.

She could begin, I offered, by educating her partners about the legal services she could provide to their clients. She needs to get on her partners’ radar about how she can help them better serve their clients. In this way, she wasn’t asking them to send her work as much as she was offering to help them be better lawyers. Lisa could take a colleague to lunch, visit other practice group meetings or offer to put on a luncheon seminar about her area of expertise. 

Secondly, I suggested that she begin with keeping her colleagues up-to-date with changes in her area of law that may impact their clients. Brief “alerts” about changes in legislation and recent cases that may impact another partner’s clients may lead to conversations with the client about how Lisa could assist the client. 

Thirdly, she can invite another partner or associate to lunch with one of her own clients to discuss a topic that may be of interest to the client. Hopefully, the client will contact Lisa’s firm if they have a new problem outside Lisa’s practice area. 

Similarly, Lisa can work with the younger associates to help them with their business development skills by offering to go to lunch with an associate’s prospective client. Not only will this support a junior lawyer who may feel timid about asking a possible new client to lunch but it may lead to the client coming to the firm.

While the partners in Lisa’s firm are not yet proactive in cross-selling each other’s services, one person can lead the way to show others how easy it is for everyone to benefit. A nineteenth century clergyman once said, “Charity begins at home but it doesn’t end there.” The same could be said for cross-selling. 

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