Sonio Singh - partner in the corporate & commercial team at Davis Blank Furniss - discusses the importance of cross-selling between departments within regional law firms....

Whilst law firms spend a substantial amount of time, expense and effort in winning new clients, cross-selling remains an elusive objective. Whilst the concept is simple enough – converting the client of one department into being a satisfied user of another - there still appears to be a number of challenges in implementing it effectively.

The first question to ask is: Why do you do it or why should you be doing it?....

In these ultra-competitive market conditions, cross-selling is of paramount importance. Legal studies, both before and after the 2008/09 credit crunch, state that an increasing number of corporate clients are seeking to limit their budgets for legal expenses and as a result are simply using fewer law firms. This instantly means that existing clients become of magnified importance so on paper this sounds like a golden opportunity. However, firms have various fears or barriers in turning that into a reality, for example; a lack of awareness in how to cross-sell; a poor understanding of other practice areas/departments in their own firm; a lack of incentive for cross-selling activities; a fear of losing clients; and a lack of a coherent information system to record relationship information with clients.

Of course, it goes without saying that on first glance not all departments are natural cross-selling bedfellows. Traditionally, corporate, property and employment teams do it well as these are three common needs of any successful business client. However, matrimonial and wills & probate departments can also effectively cross-sell, given changes of domestic circumstances and following cash awards. Similarly litigation and private client divisions have synergies; for example, following the receipt of cash awards pursuant to court proceedings. In short, cross-selling can – and should - apply to any two different practice areas, especially if you want a competitive edge.

As well as the obvious financial benefits, cross-selling often yields better and more solid relationships with satisfied clients. This accomplishes the primary objective of retaining and enhancing an established client base. In addition, it can often provide opportunities to work as a team in a multi-disciplinary transaction and deliver a more integrated service which may - of course - save the client money and generate loyalty.

Whilst the benefits for the firm are fairly evident, these may not necessarily interest a client who has a different set of priorities. Therefore, it’s vital to understand the specific needs of every client, their industries and personnel. Similarly, you need to establish and make them recognise that increased integration means a more convenient and cost effective service for them.

In terms of actually ‘doing it’, the tactics and practices often vary between different law firms. However, the following tools should be applicable to all: share intelligence with your co-partners and fee earners to identify opportunities; invest in an efficient client intelligence system; be a confident seller of the services across your firm; educate your fellow partners and fee earners regarding the benefits of cross-selling and reducing the barriers; develop a rewards system for cross-selling and share the credit for this objective; and finally enhance your after sales/post-transaction service.

It’s not rocket science but investing in a strategic cross-selling programme will pay dividends. It just takes planning and commitment from all to make it an integral part of how you do business.