Doing your firm a favour

Existing clients take on extra significance if you can sell them additional services, says Jonathan Denny

Cross-selling additional services to clients as a way of growing a law firm’s business has become something of a Holy Grail for law firm marketing. However, the very expression ‘cross-selling’ implies that there are barriers to be crossed, and most firms will admit that, whatever those psychological barriers may be, they inhibit significantly the breadth of services they are able to provide to many clients.

We all know that it is far easier (and much less costly in terms of time and resource) to develop business by selling additional services to existing clients, rather than attempting to win entirely new clients. And yet there is propensity among lawyers to devote a disproportionate amount of their marketing time to the pursuit of new clients.

This is partly because new client wins are valued more highly, both in terms of internal credibility and certainly in terms of external newsworthiness, than the cross-referral of an existing client to some other part of the firm.

Sole-practitioner mentality (prevalent even in the largest partnerships) has a lot to do with this. Most lawyers’ principal concern is for generating work and fees for themselves and, (sometimes) for their teams, rather than seeing their role as generating work for the practice as a whole. The ‘my client’ syndrome, born of insecurity (another trait surprisingly common even among highly able and successful lawyers) can also be a factor. Lawyers tend to be reluctant to refer ‘their’ client to another department for fear of losing the principal connection with that client and some degree of influence within the firm as a result.

These barriers to effective cross-selling can be alleviated by a combination of effective appraisal systems coupled with a remuneration system for partners and assistants that recognises and rewards those that have been successful at generating work for other practice areas as well as their own.

However, the most fundamental barrier to cross-selling lies with the departmental structure of most law firms and the mindset that is attached to such a structure. Most lawyers think of themselves, even describe themselves, by reference to their specialist practice area, such as ‘real estate’ or ’employment’. And, as specialisation becomes ever narrower, so a form of professional myopia can set in, resulting in a lack of awareness of the needs of clients outside the confines of the specialist department.

This mindset is not easy to shift, certainly within a conventional practice area departmental structure. My firm, Cripps Harries Hall, has been no more successful than most in this regard over the years – until now. Last year it instituted a major reorganisation of the firm’s structure, removing the conventional departmental structure altogether and replacing it with a group structure organised around industry sectors or client type. Although the lawyers still specialise in their chosen practice areas, such as commercial property or property litigation, the firm no longer has a real estate department or a litigation department as such. Instead, it has brought together the lawyers with the specialist skills to provide all the services expected for a particular client group. For example, the development group, which acts for housebuilders and other developers, contains specialist lawyers in a wide range of disciplines, including commercial property, planning, construction, property litigation, residential property and even defendant personal injury.

The result is that the barriers to cross-selling have largely been removed. Clients tend no longer to be ‘owned’ by an individual partner or specialist department, but have become clients of the wider group.

Jonathan Denny is managing partner at Cripps Harries Hall