Solicitors firms are hurting. They are having to work harder and harder just to stand still, and, given the expected Government cuts in public expenditure, there is unlikely to be much respite. Even those firms that are not overly exposed to public sector work will still feel the chill wind of the cuts.
Firms will have had meeting after meeting to decide on the list of priorities:
- Cash flow;
- Lock up;
- Supply costs;
- Staffing needs;
- Office expenses;
- Recruitment, but only to replace leavers;
- Target clients; and
- Cutting out unprofitable work.
These are all very laudable and of necessity but one of if not the key projects that gets missed off is **CROSS-DEPARTMENTAL WORKING** (apologies for emphasising this, but so few firms understand the supreme importance of striving for and making this work).
In simple terms, there are so many opportunities open to a firm that not to put all your energies into this just looks downright foolish.
In the current climate any opportunity that opens up a rich vein of work at no or minimal cost has to be priority #1. But, of course, like a lot of operational projects, it is usually the easiest ones to spot that are the hardest to implement. It is also not helped by the fact that lawyers have been forced down the route of increasing specialisation. It means that they no longer find themselves having to talk as much to their colleagues in other departments.
If managing partners or those in charge of business development are serious about this project then where should they start?
- Make sure you understand what each and every person does in a team. Take private client. Nowadays, with the increasing complexity of estates you will be amazed at the diversity of work, specialism (perhaps an unknowing one) and client profile and it may well be that just by getting everyone together on a weekly basis yields an increase in (profitable) fees because the appropriate people are doing the work.
- If necessary put together a team sheet which can easily be transcribed from the firm’s website. If you use Sharepoint then upload it there.
- Distribute those liberally and with abandon. Challenge people to recite at the next meeting what the person to their left at the last meeting actually does and if they must crib from the team sheet then so be it. What you are looking to achieve is recognition so that any obvious opportunities with current or new matters are not missed.
- Once you have mastered the existing departments, you then need to devise a compelling vision, purpose and action plan for cross-departmental working and the opportunities available; and perhaps the easiest way to achieve this is to make sure that every person attends someone else’s team meeting e.g. you have a private client lawyer attend the litigation and commercial team meetings and vice versa. At those meetings you don’t want a lot of bored people so you give the incoming person a project. Not the usual bland “This is what I do” stuff but to think creatively about a scenario where they have either worked with someone from another team (not necessarily the team that they are presenting to) and to invite them to think how they could work creatively in the future. Get out of the mindset of quid pro quo or 1 for 1: you refer one client to me and I will refer one to you. NO, NO. Think giving. Think value of the client relationship.
- Make sure that at every meeting there is a focus on the existing clients and to discuss openly the likely legal spend or opportunities to cross-sell an additional service line.
- The next step is to start devising some client development programmes that includes direct marketing, telephone contact and face to face meetings. Make sure that there are clear lines of communication so that everyone knows what is expected of them. There should be a strong ethic to develop the client relationship for the benefit of the firm and lawyers should stop reciting the hackneyed expression: “What’s in it for me?” Just focus on the firm and not You.
- If all this fails to impress people then tell them point blank that if they don’t master this then someone else will and once a client relationship is lost to another provider it is a damn site harder to win them back. Do lawyers actually think that a retailer like Tesco is going to squander the ubiquity of the client intelligence they have and not try to sell every possible service line that they have availalble. Get real.
If firms are going to take this seriously then perhaps a new Cross-Departmental Tsar needs to be appointed. Someone who takes this as seriously as any client project.
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