Many lawyers tell me that a major barrier to cross-selling is their limited knowledge of other practice areas in their firms, at least compared to their knowledge of their own specialties. They feel that they don't know enough to describe others' services.

Here's the good news: Describing your colleagues' services is counter-productive. Nobody cares what they can do; we only what they can do for us. Legal services are abstract, not relevant, at least until you make them relevant.

Consider this quote from Samuel Johnson:

"Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information on it." 

Expand your definition of knowledge to include the second type, and your problem is solved. You know a number of sources where you can find subject information: your colleagues.

Don't try to explain others' expertise to prospects. Instead, ask questions that reveal why having such knowledge or expertise available would be important or valuable. Why does the prospect want or need the knowledge? What would she do with it? What effect does he envision from its use? What economic impact would she attribute to that effect?

Now you know not only why the prospect would benefit from your colleagues' knowledge, but why your colleague would benefit from having this potential client. 

You have clients who love you and your work, who willingly provide glowing references when asked. Why don't they refer new prospects to you? In addition to the fact that most of us simply don't ask, another reason is that they don't know whom you want to be referred to.  Here are three simple steps to change that:

  1. Develop a client profile. What do the top 10% or 20% of your clients have in common?  Title? Net worth? Industry? Personality? You're looking for referrals with similar profiles.

  2. Identify the problem you solve for them. Potential referrers aren't immersed in the legal-service terminology that you're surrounded with all day, so labels like "Employment Law," or "Securities Litigation," etc., have little or no meaning to them. It's simply not relevant to the existing conversation. Talk about the business problem, situation or activity that results in the need for an employment lawyer, or the circumstances that lead to needing a securities litigator. Now, you're relevant.

  3. Create a memory aid and spread the word. When meeting with current clients, give them a written description of your ideal client profile and the problem you solve for them. Include space for them to write names or notes to themselves.  

Why should they refer anyone to you?  If they think about it, clients realize that, like themselves, you must develop your business. By referring you to people who match your profile, they help you save time and energy that you can then spend on improving your value as a resource to them. Just make sure that you do your part.

On the surface, cross-selling conversations may sound like they're limited to BigLaw, but that's not true. Small firms and solos are often part of formal or informal networks of lawyers with differing skills, resulting in a virtual Mid- or BigLaw, if you will. Too many of those arrangements produce little by way of business referrals. One reason that's so is because everybody is waiting around for someone else to make the first referral. What they get good at is waiting (and bemoaning the low yield from the network).

What if you intentionally initiated discussions with some of your clients about problems that are outside your expertise? If the problem has real impact, they'll thank you for introducing your network colleague -- and your colleague will be surprised and thrilled, particularly after you tell her that this was no accident, but by strategic intent. The Principle of Reciprocity assures that she'll feel the need to try to do something for you in return. All you have to do is teach her the simple technique (or refer her to the online RainmakerVT courses to learn on her own).

Mike O'Horo