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Cross-selling Legal Services in Today’s Economy


Written by Dan Stokes

Clients who work with more than one practice discipline within a law firm generally have longer tenure and more extensive spend. For many firms, institutionalizing clients and building complete client loyalty and satisfaction is the ultimate goal, and we all know the benefits of cross-selling can be HUGE.

In fact, an article published by Harvard Law School’s The Practice, “Collaboration in Law Firms, the New Wave of Practice,“ notes:

“The growing complexity of legal work—work that is increasingly cross-practice and multijurisdictional in nature—requires lawyers to collaborate across expertise and organizational boundaries. Data shows that when lawyers so work across specialties, their firm earns higher margins, clients are more loyal, and individual lawyers are able to charge more for the work they do.” The article continues, “by deemphasizing input measures, such as billable hours, and focusing more on output variables, like breadth of service per client (known in some firms as “proliferation”), firms can lower the barriers to collaboration and land higher-value work.”

Let me digress for a moment… having worked with many attorneys and a broad range of legal practices, I prefer “cross-serving” to “cross-selling.” The law, by nature, is an erudite profession and intellectual discipline requiring practical application to everyday scenarios—so lawyers serve clients rather than sell clients.

Cross-serving, in good times and bad, can result in increased revenue and customer satisfaction, as well as more in-depth understanding of and integration into your client’s business and operations. When cross-serving works, it is considered the “holy grail” of marketing and client development.

Whether the economy is good, bad, or somewhere in between, the goal of cross-serving remains the same: to increase income from an existing client and/or safeguard your relationship by anticipating your client’s bigger picture needs.

The economic consequences of COVID-19 and resulting business disruption continues to reverberate across our economy while states prepare for massive revenue shortfalls. Now, more than ever, is the time to identify the right clients for cross-serving legal services.

Covid has made it near impossible to develop business in the traditional way of wining, dining, and attending conferences and events. Those lawyers who take the time to survey their firm realize there is usually a huge network of colleagues with whom they can cross-serve clients. Especially now, don’t spin your wheels trying to find new external clients, meet with selected colleagues to discuss ways you can serve one another’s clients.

In identifying where you might be able to naturally cross-serve clients, you should also consider current legal and business trends and factors outside of the law that could impact client operations and objectives. Seek to anticipate your client’s specific needs by enlightening them with possible obstacles or opportunities to progress, thus opening the door to expanded representation.

Moreover, find out what your client’s greatest stressors and challenges are going forward. Ask about their growth goals and possible business solutions outside of the scope of your immediate representation, then introduce them to the right colleague. Make sure that the colleague you refer understands the quid pro quo and that you would appreciate consideration for internal referrals with his/her clients.

However, cross-serving certainly has challenges. In addition to territorial issues over client relationships (relationship hoarding), there can also exist a lack of trust or confidence with colleagues you don’t know well, shortfalls in internal communications or education about the firm’s full practice capabilities, and let’s not forget… insufficient client awareness.

Many law firm clients as ask us how they should begin a fresh approach to a cross-serving initiative? My first thought is always to begin with identifying your best clients, perform a business review, and create an internal “team” that know and trust each other. It is critical to identify the type of distinct legal services you currently provide while identifying what your client might need going forward.

Although some attorney teams are protective, I also encourage them to offer a trial period or discount/incentive program as part of the organized and intentional cross-serve initiative. Remember, your clients are feeling the pandemic pinch just as much as you are… and we all know it is easier to keep an existing happy client… even happier. 

There is no definitive right or wrong time to cross-serve. Particularly in a business environment that is stressed (to say the least), make sure that the services you seek to provide complement your existing repertoire. This way, your approach to expanding your representation will feel like a natural next step in problem solving to your client.