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Know Clients' Whole Business to Increase Billables
by Barbara Lewis MBA and Dan Otto MBA

Attorneys may find themselves focusing on a specific client project and then moving onto the next client’s matter in the queue. Oftentimes, attorneys may overlook additional work that the client may need to have done, thereby missing an opportunity to expand the relationship with the client and generate additional fees. Whether this is work that you do yourself or work that your partner may do, this missed opportunity may have a serious ramification: the client may hire another attorney to do the work and, if that attorney wraps himself or herself around the client as a trusted advisor, you may lose the client.

Consultants are adept at helping their clients in every way possible. However, attorneys have traditionally not ventured outside their specific matters. For example, a company is not successful with only the employment policies in place that the employment attorney has developed. If the employment attorney takes an interest in the other functional areas of the company, then s/he helps ensure that the company is successful and reduces the client’s risk by having sound legal policies in place in many areas. This doesn’t mean that the employment attorney is now drafting buy/sell agreements for the client’s partners; however, when discovering that no agreement is in place, the attorney recommends that the client secure such an agreement and suggests a capable attorney to assist the client.

This scenario is often called cross-marketing, cross-selling or cross-pollination in law firms when the additional work is referred to another attorney within the firm. Campaigns to cross-sell additional law firm services may not be successful if attorneys’ focus is on generating the work, rather than helping the clients. If attorneys want to wrap themselves around their clients and become indispensable advisors, two traits need to be evident. The attorneys needs to know something about the various functional areas and be able to ask their clients appropriate questions, and the attorneys should know good attorneys and consultants to whom they can refer the work.

The functional areas of most companies include: strategy, finance and accounting, marketing and sales, human resources and employee benefits, and operations. Legal services are prevalent in each of those areas to varying degrees.

Major questions about your client’s business include planning tools. Does the client have a strategic plan, business plan, marketing plan, benefits plan, etc.? Planning is one of the key elements for success and risk avoidance.

Other questions include: What are the client’s long-range goals? Your work should be aligned with any goals that client may have. Is the client growing (revenues and profits) at a rate that is equal to or surpasses the industry average? If not, the client may need a marketing plan or a review of expenses. What are the issues that are prevalent in the client’s industry? By understanding the issues, you can help your client minimize or eliminate them.

The other ingredient in becoming an advisor for your client is having a resource of excellent attorneys and consultants. The value in developing this resource is two fold: one is that you have contacts in various functional areas to whom you can refer work and two is that you develop sources who could refer work to you.

One of the best ways to develop a comprehensive list of attorneys and consultants is to ask your current clients whom they have relationships with and meet those people. Your client will probably be happy to introduce you to these people. You already know that these attorneys and consultants are probably good, since your client is presumably happy with their services.

Another way is to network in groups where you have an opportunity to meet people to whom you may refer work and who may, in turn, refer work to you.

One caution in becoming an advisor to your client, rather than just an attorney who focuses on specific matters: If another attorney has referred the client, you don’t want to infringe on areas in which the referring attorney is focusing.

By taking an interest in your client’s entire business, rather than your specific area of expertise, you signal your concern in the client’s success. The client’s perception will probably be one of gratitude, since research indicates that one of the primary reasons that companies select professionals is because of their care and concern.

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