Business Development


Business Development:

Business is where you find it: How to cross-sell your services

Michael P. Hurley
Columbus, OH

Cross-selling is just a fancy term for offering your existing clients additional legal services that they very much need, but that they might not even know exist—or that you handle. Major law firms know and appreciate the benefits of cross-selling to their clients, and there is no reason solos, small firms, and general practitioners should not be practicing cross-selling as well.

Business is where you find it
A seasoned lawyer once told me, "Business is where you find it." Personally, I find business wherever I turn. I rarely attend any function where I do not have the opportunity to interact with current or potential clients who need my legal services. People asking me about my profession invariably want to know what my specialty is. I usually tell them that I am like an internist. I have my finger on the pulse of all their legal issues, and I should be the first person they call when they have a legal concern.

I started out practicing law as a "full service attorney"; any potential client that walked through the door was welcome.  Like the  Johnny Cash song, "I've Been Everywhere," I tried to help clients in every arena. I became familiar with bankruptcy, divorce, child custody, child support, real estate, small business, collection work, foreclosures, municipal law, workman compensation, criminal law, both misdemeanor and felony; civil law, litigation (civil and criminal) and I even tackled an admiralty case.

I was busy, but I found that there were certain areas of the law that I enjoyed working in over others. I became proficient in estate planning/probate law and in real estate law. 

Offer a pro bono service
One practice that has helped my probate business is including a will, often pro bono, in every legal matter that I handled. I found that many referrals come from the clients for whom I prepared a will. Apparently, most people have very little contact with the legal system and often it is to have their will prepared. As a result, the attorney who prepares the will is often considered the family attorney for any legal matter that may arise.

Charge clients indirectly
As my practice matured, I started to realize that most of my fees were coming in from cases where there is a "pool" of money that is not coming directly out of the client's back pocket. For example, if a father dies leaving his estate to his children, the children need my services to probate the estate and release the funds that are tied up in the estate (pool). My fee comes out of the estate and the beneficiaries get to keep the entire check that they receive from the estate. Also, in a real estate transaction I bill my fee as part of the closing costs, so when the sellers receive their check, they get to keep the entire amount.

Discuss all of your services with your clients
I make it a point when interviewing new clients to let them know all the areas of law that I practice, and I encourage them to contact me for any legal matter. I know that, if neither my partner nor I can handle it, I will be able to identify other competent lawyers in the community who practice in that area.

Although there are several areas of the law that I feel competent to engage in for the benefit of my clients, I find that new clients come to me for a specific legal need—and with the mindset that I limit my practice to that area of law. For example, a satisfied real estate client generally thinks that I deal only with real estate law, and any referrals from that client are generally limited to real estate issues. Another new client referred for a probate matter assumes that I stick to probate law.

Look beyond the original reason the client hired you
Clients are often reluctant to ask questions, so I believe that a lawyer should proactively discuss with clients all of the options available to them within the scope of their legal needs. For example, a family law attorney may have just successfully completed her client's divorce. If she feels competent, the lawyer should ask the client about his estate planning needs now that he is no longer married. Further, she should apprise the client of the other areas of law where she may be of assistance. Let's say that this lawyer learned that her client intends to open his own business after the divorce is final. The client will be well served if the attorney counsels him on legal assistance that she can provide in launching the new business.

For many years I served as a director of a local Habitat for Humanity chapter. I had the opportunity to participate in a conference with the organization's cofounders, the late Millard Fuller and Linda Fuller. During one of the conference sessions, Millard was asked why Habitat for Humanity provided an envelope and requested a donation in every piece of mail that it sent to its members. Without hesitation, Millard responded, "We tried not asking for donations and received little in return, so we went back to asking because we found it worked better."

So, too, in the legal profession, we need to ask our clients about their legal needs and often prod them into the realization that obtaining competent legal assistance is more effective than procrastinating over their legal issues. Clients are reluctant to reach out to their attorney beyond their immediate legal need. Don't be afraid to cross-sell them other legal services that you can provide.

Clients who come in for an estate planning conference usually request that I prepare a will for them. I believe it is my duty to educate them on the various other estate-planning tools available (e.g., durable power of attorney, living will, health care power of attorney, living trust, etc.). I also want to know how clients hold title to their real estate to determine if a survivorship deed or transfer-on-death deed may be appropriate. I rarely end up preparing only a will. Once clients understand the important documents that are available to them, they want their estate plan to be complete.

An elderly client who comes in for estate planning is often brought by another family member or friend. I always try to inquire of everyone in my office if they have their estate plan in order. It is surprising the number of additional estate plans that I generate just by asking.

A client comes in to discuss the formation of a new business. In addition to explaining the legal work that needs to be done to form the new entity, I advise the client that I am available to assist her in all her legal needs and ask if she has her estate plan in order. It is surprising the response that you get when you ask about other legal needs. Sometimes it is a brief, "Yes, I am in good shape." Other times, the floodgate of questions opens because you cared to ask.

Consider a co-counsel arrangement
There are certain legal issues that I have successfully handled in the past but no longer wish to handle now; however, I do not want to turn away a good client who needs these services. In such situations I team with another competent lawyer and enter into a co-counsel arrangement with the client's approval. This arrangement allows me to work with the other lawyer on the case and share the fee in proportion to the work that I contribute. It is a win-win situation for clients. The clients want me to be involved in the matter, and they get two lawyers for the price of one. Don't be afraid to tell clients that you may be able to assist them, but only with co-counsel. Most clients will appreciate your honesty and want you to continue to participate as co-counsel.

Business is where you find it, so don't be afraid to ask. Make sure your clients view you as an "internist" available to assist them in any legal matter that comes up, either on your own or with co-counsel. Cross-selling to your clients will be good for your bottom line, but more importantly it will enhance the legal service you provide to your clients.