When it comes to attracting new clients, a standout partner can be an asset to a firm.
But while one lawyer may be able to boost his or her own bottom line, a number of firms are adopting a team approach to help expand business, especially in a down economy.
The concept of cross-selling, or having attorneys from different practice areas connect each other with clients, is an emerging trend for mid-size firms, said law firm consultant Deborah Knupp.
“It is a necessity today,” said Knupp, co-founder of Chicago-based Akina. “I think firms that get it are really looking at this current market as an opportunity and are absolutely stepping into this.”
Milwaukee-based Davis & Kuelthau SC has gradually incorporated the concept as a way to coordinate business between its five Wisconsin locations.
Marketing director Michelle M. Friedman said that it takes “toddler steps” to implement a successful cross-selling plan.
Business development training sessions for attorneys and modifications in firm compensation models to reward collaboration are two avenues that Friedman has seen work.
For example, said Friedman, instead of an attorney being compensated solely on the business he or she individually brings in, subjective factors such as partner collaboration and non-billable efforts to generate business can be used to “incentivize” cross-selling.
What’s key to success, she said, is letting attorneys “who are really good business developers lead the way to help collaborate among practice groups. [Then] there is a trickle-down effect to other attorneys.”
But getting a veteran attorney with a strong book of business to subscribe to the idea of cross-selling can be easier said than done, noted marketing consultant Larry Bodine.
While the recession may provide additional incentive to work together to build business for a firm, some lawyers are reluctant to risk losing clients and billable hours.
“The key thing law firms have to remember is a client is not a partner’s personal book of business,” Bodine said. “Clients are an asset for the firm to exploit, so there is no excuse for a partner to hoard clients. It’s just hurting the firm.”
How do you identify clients who might be good candidates for cross-selling? Bodine said the traditional point of entry is through the corporate practice, because attorneys who do transactional work or corporate filings are often in the best position to know what else is going on at a company.
“Then you ask those corporate lawyers, ‘what else does this client need?’ Red hot areas like bankruptcy or government regulation might lend themselves to additional opportunities.”
Bodine said that in his experience, the more partners that work with a client the better the chance the client will have a long-term relationship with the firm.
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP has had success cross-selling through their corporate practice, said marketing manager Jennifer R. Rupkey. Opportunities for intellectual property and real estate work have emerged as a result of relationships with corporate clients.
“We look at it from the client’s perspective in terms of what types of services might they be looking for, as opposed to the mindset of, let’s go sell this client,” she said.
It’s important to staff your cross-selling team carefully. Knupp cautioned against simply sending a group of lawyers with the best resumes and most experience to pitch a client, especially if they don’t know each other.
She has seen in house counsel avoid hiring firms if it’s clear the lawyers don’t like each other or haven’t worked together.
You don’t want “attorneys from the firm introducing themselves to their own co-workers when they enter the room for the pitch,” she said.
Knupp likened the strategy of pairing partners for cross-selling to finding a match on eHarmony — the attorneys should have some level of compatibility.
It may seem like basic advice, but larger firms shouldn’t forget the attorneys in their other offices, said Friedman. She’s heard of instances where work was referred to other firms because the lawyer didn’t know someone internal was available.
“If you don’t know enough about the partners at another office, set up a presentation to say, ‘here’s what we do, how can we help,’” Friedman said.