Law Firms v. Lawyers and Cross-Selling Issues

Mark Herrmann at above the Law had a good post today on whether individuals hire law firms or hire lawyers. The conclusion was that people hire lawyers, or at least they should. I agree.

Clients Hire Lawyers: Sometimes

Mark notes that one of the reasons to hire lawyers and not firms is because if you are hiring a firm you never know what you are going to get. True enough. Especially in a large firm, the quality of the lawyers will vary vastly and you never really know who will be assigned your case, unless you demand a specific lawyer. And even then you don’t know whether the lawyer will be doing most of the work herself, or junior associates will be assigned to the job.

While clients should hire lawyers, they don’t always. For example a client might initially be attracted to the firm by a commercial or website or the firm’s size, prestige and apparent power.  In that case, over time, the client is simply going to become comfortable with one particular lawyer and will convert from caring about what firm he hired to what lawyer he works with. This is assuming the lawyer does a good job. Firms need to remember that the the clients’ relationship will be with the lawyer and keep that in mind when engaging in cross-selling of the firm and its services (more on that later.)

In a solo or small firm (under 10 lawyers)  it is very clear that it is the lawyer being hired. In small firms it is unlikely that other attorneys will work on the case, more likely a clerk or paralegals will become involved and in some ways it is easier to see how the client chose the attorney. Large firms might want to take a look and see how the process works for a smaller firm. It might help them to see the reality of the situation. Never underestimate the solo or small firm lawyer. He might just have something to teach you.

After stating unequivocally that clients should hire lawyers, Mark moves on to the intriguing question of how firms and clients should handle cross-selling. Since Mark asks the question, I think I’ll take the opportunity to join into the conversation with him. (Even though I guarantee he has no idea who I am.)


I have been a complicit target of cross-selling for many years.  The cross-selling to which I am referring relates to seminar organization. When I create (or should I say created) a seminar for PBI, my first step was often to find a course planner or two. The course planner would then help me locate additional faculty.

Is He the Best Speaker?

This is where the cross-selling came in. While the course planner normally wanted the best co-speakers he could find, it wasn’t at all uncommon for those suggested speakers to be from the same firm or related to the firm in some way. I had no issue with attorneys wanting to include associates or partners from their firms as additional speakers, as long as three requirements were met:

First, I tried to limit the number to two people from one firm on any given lecture date. (Large Institutes with 20 or more faculty excepted.)

Second, I wanted the attorney to be an expert (if you will pardon the term) in his field. I didn’t want the firm to just add someone to my panel who wasn’t a very good lawyer or who was not particularly experienced in the area about which he would be speaking.

Third, I didn’t want the seminar to become a commercial for the firm. A commercial in a CLE seminar, whether for a vendor or a firm is never a good idea. It really puts off the audience and the evaluations are terrible.

How I Handled Cross-Selling as a CLE Provider

I had many frank conversations over the years about the quality of speakers, how many speakers could be from the same firm and marketing issues. Most attorneys were very understanding about my cross-selling concerns.

We have to be realistic about why attorneys speak for CLE organizations, especially large firm attorneys. They do it for the business. Nothing wrong with that. But  when cross-selling to the CLE organizer it is crucial for the attorney or firm doing the cross-selling to remember to provide a good speaker. Otherwise his reputation will be damaged with the CLE organizer who will think twice before using that attorney again and definitely won’t trust that attorney to suggest future speakers.

All I asked is that the attorney doing the cross-selling recommend good speakers. And this meant actually knowing the speakers he was recommending or at least having a good basis in knowledge to believe the person could speak and knew what he was talking about.

Cross-Selling to Clients

Cross-selling to clients is much the same as cross-selling to a CLE provider.  The attorney doing the cross-selling is looking to bring something into the firm, in this case instead of free advertising he is looking for more business.  But if the attorney doing the cross-selling doesn’t know the attorney he is trying to sell is a good attorney he risks seriously damaging his relationship with his client.

Any attorney (or firm) seeking to do cross-selling needs to think long and hard about the attorney he is going to cross-sell before he does so. To bring it full circle, since we know clients hire attorneys the attorney risks losing the client if he cross-sells a bad attorney or a bad service. This doesn’t help the attorney and it doesn’t help the firm.

Cross-selling shouldn’t be a knee jerk reaction. If a client asks for a recommendation and the attorney doesn’t know who to suggest immediately, he should stop and get some suggestions from people he trusts from within the firm before making that recommendation.

What should the attorney do if he doesn’t think the firm has a good match for the client or a good attorney in the area the client requires help? Whoa boy that is a huge can of worms. Obviously the attorney isn’t going to just want to say we don’t have a good attorney in that area, but he should think long and hard before he throws his client to a bad attorney. Because in the end, it will be both the attorney’s reputation and the firm’s reputation he harms and the cross-selling really won’t have been particularly useful.

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