Frank D'Amore
Frank D’Amore ()

Although some firms do quite well at cross-selling, it has become a Holy Grail for many others. In light of the difficulty of landing new clients, firms understandably see value in marketing additional services to existing customers. There should be lower hurdles to surmount with such clients, as they hopefully respect the firm, which makes the sales effort much easier.

While some firms are adept at cross-selling, most have had mixed success. The refrains typically enunciated by those who struggle in this realm are that “we need to do more of this” and “we can and should do a much better job.” Five factors are discussed that, if implemented, should hopefully increase a firm’s batting average in cross-selling efforts.

The first prerequisite is that a firm needs to have an incentive system that rewards cross-selling. In a utopian world order, this would not be necessary, as firms would be truly collaborative environments in which all the lawyers are team-first individuals who implicitly trust every colleague. In such a firm, the lawyers would realize and embrace the benefits of cross-selling, such as:

• Broadening and strengthening client bonds, which help tie those clients even tighter to the firm.

• Growing top-line revenue for the firm, which inures to everyone’s benefit, especially the equity owners.

• Experiencing a deep sense of satisfaction resulting from doing the proverbial “right thing.”

Unfortunately, this much-desired state rarely exists in 2014. As lawyers change firms much more often than yesteryear, it is exceedingly difficult to create this nirvana-like culture. Often, many key producers may not have grown up in the firm and thus are not as imbued with the sense of trust and collaboration that are developed after working for years, if not decades, with other firm lawyers. Those who have emigrated from other firms, in which team-first behavior was not the norm, may bring the vestiges of wounds with them from having been bruised by sharp elbows in situations of this ilk.

Firms, too, are frequently more short-term focused than ever. This contributes to creating environments that do not encourage the type of collaboration that supports cross-selling. While firms are not under quarter-to-quarter pressure like publicly traded clients, the struggle for top-line revenue has intensified the focus on current results. This places a premium on getting work in the door now and rewards such behavior, especially when partner compensation is much more focused on “what have you done for me lately” and not the longer term. If you are a partner in such a firm, would you focus more of your time in getting work from current clients in existing practice areas or in seeding relationships for other partners, which not only may never bear fruit, but may also reduce revenue for the firm (and presumably your compensation) if you have to invest significant time in properly pursuing cross-selling opportunities?

If my thesis is correct, the best way to encourage cross-selling is to incentivize it in a firm’s compensation system. If a firm has a strictly arithmetic pay scheme, there needs to be some variable in play that compensates the relationship partner for introducing partners in other practice areas to clients, especially if origination credit is given to those other partners who actually will do the new work. Similarly, if the origination credit stays with the relationship partner, the system needs to recognize the other partners’ efforts in having brought in the new work and in hopefully expanding it going forward. In firms with hybrid or more subjective systems, it is essential that committees or the compensation decision-makers are fully apprised of the roles that each of the lawyers played in the process and that a fair and equitable allocation results.

A second condition that needs to be met for effective cross-selling is that the relationship partner must have full confidence, not only that the other lawyers are highly capable, but that they also have personalities and styles that will mesh well with the client. This latter point is a crucial one that many lawyers overlook, as it is assumed that just because Partner A is a terrific lawyer, he thus merits being placed before a client in a cross-selling effort. The relationship partner should know his client well and if that fit is not there, it should take Partner A out of the mix, no matter how good he may be.

As to gauging competence, this may have been proven over time if lawyers in different practice areas have worked together. If that has not happened, the relationship partner needs to do some informal due diligence of his own about his colleagues, even if they have been in the same firm for many years. Opening up a client relationship can have negative consequences if the other lawyers cannot perform at or above acceptable levels; it is thus up to the relationship partner to be convinced of this before proceeding. I can attest, from having been the client during my in-house years, that it is assumed that the relationship partner has done this vetting before offering the services of a lawyer in a different practice area.

Third, if the relationship partner is going to move forward with cross-selling, he needs to do so with the same level of enthusiasm and confidence as if he were pursuing the work on his own. Clients are hyper-sensitive in these situations, especially since many worked in law firms and understand the game. If they detect that the relationship partner is only going through the motions in making the introduction, it will not only ensure that the cross-selling effort fails, but also can damage the overall relationship. In this vein, also, do not do what several partners did to me, namely, asking me, as a favor, to take a meeting with other partners in the firm just to “help out” the relationship partner. This showed no respect for my time, or that of other business executives who were very busy, especially when there was no or little chance that we would work with those other lawyers.

In assessing these opportunities, it should be easier to pursue cross-selling when the relationship partner knows that the client does not have current representation in a certain practice area or is looking to make a change of counsel. It may seem far more challenging when cross-selling is being pushed within the firm, if the relationship partner knows that the client already has long-time counsel in place in that other practice area. Relationship partners are often reticent to even approach clients in such situations, which can be a mistake.

It is often difficult, if not impossible, as an outsider, to fully know just how happy a client may be with a particular law firm. The general counsel, for example, may like the firm, and may tell the relationship partner that, but some senior executives and perhaps other lawyers of influence, who have day-to-day responsibility for that work, may not feel the same way. There just may be a window of opportunity there that the relationship partner cannot appreciate. If the relationship partner can plausibly, and convincingly, show that his firm can do a better job, offer comparable services at a better price point, or has some other type of edge, he should make the case. As with many things in life, unless you ask, you will not receive.

Fourth, the relationship partner needs to determine who the appropriate “call point” is for the cross-selling opportunity. Often, especially in large law departments, key decision-makers vary depending upon the practice area in question. For example, the relationship partner may be dealing with the claims area for his work, but would have to approach an entirely different set of lawyers and executives if he wants to introduce his firm’s M&A lawyers.

The relationship partner should get guidance from his main client contact in this regard. If such a disparate group of players is involved, it likely will be important for that client contact to help build a bridge for the relationship partner, which may take some time. Forcing the cross-selling opportunity, before such bonds are formed, normally leads to a negative outcome.

Finally, if the relationship partner has a close relationship with a consequential client, the partner needs to stay involved. The relationship partner cannot make the introduction and then, if the new work is landed, simply hope that things go well. Even if the relationship partner is in a far different practice area from his brethren in the firm (for example, products liability as compared to Employee Retirement Income Security Act), most clients will still come to the relationship partner if an issue arises in that other practice area. Clients expect that the relationship partner is representing their interests and will protect them, especially when that relationship partner introduced these other lawyers.

I am not, in this regard, suggesting that the relationship partner should micromanage specific legal issues that arise in that other practice area. The other partners need the latitude to do their jobs well and without having to answer to the relationship partner on every nuance of the representation. Nevertheless, the relationship partner needs to be apprised of important developments and should be involved with more general issues where judgment, and not knowledge of the law, per se, are involved.

The relationship partner should, before the cross-selling opportunity is explored, explain to the other partners his level of expected involvement—there should be no surprises in that regard. If the other partners are uncomfortable with that arrangement and want unfettered control, look for others and, if there are no such lawyers in the firm, refrain from moving forward. The relationship partner is protecting the firm in this respect, as it is better off maintaining the existing work rather than risking everything. If that other partner cannot respect the relationship and performs in a deleterious manner that could have been prevented through appropriate involvement by the relationship partner, it just could result in that client going elsewhere.

Frank Michael D’Amore is the founder of Attorney Career Catalysts, http://www.attycareers.com, a Pennsylvania-based legal recruiting and consulting firm that focuses on law firm mergers and partner placements. He is a former partner in an Am Law 200 firm, general counsel in privately held and publicly traded companies, and vice president of business development. He can be reached at fdamore@attycareers.com.