Collaborating with other lawyers & legal firms: Back to basics for lawyers
Welcome to the March edition of Back to Basics — a Business Briefing for Lawyers. This month the focus is on Collaborating with others.
Unless you are a full service legal firm, it is likely that there will be areas of law where your firm simply does not have the skills, knowledge or experience to deal with client business—and that’s where Collaboration comes into its own.
We will look at recognised routes of collaboration and consider even the simple things—like, what do you do with your conflict cases—and do you have reciprocal arrangements with other legal firms? This is Collaboration in its most basic form and whilst there might not be a direct money exchange, it is likely that the relationship will create new business for your firm.
If you need any help to explore potential areas of Collaboration, please get in touch with me—I’d be delighted to help.
Brian O’Neill LL.B MBA
t. 07855 838395
Can you provide all the services your client needs?
Last month we looked at Business Development and focused on the Boston Matrix—a well known business tool that helps those managing the business work out which services they should continue to provide, which ones to invest in and which ones to stop providing. It is very likely that you will need to take some very serious decisions about what services you do provide and what services you don’t provide—and if you don’t provide them, what you will do with your clients who need these types of services?
This is not an uncommon problem. Whilst many “high street” firms provide a wide range of services, they tend not to provide every service that might be needed by their wide and diverse client base. This can lead to serious problems, not least of which is how to make sure that the client has the work carried out correctly without taking the risk of losing the client because you didn’t do the job properly due to your lack of experience in the field—or worse still, lose the client and get sued for negligence in the process—because of your lack of experience in the field!
The next important step once you’ve discovered the services you do want to provide is to work out a way to provide your clients with services that you don’t provide—and still retain them as clients.
Recently, I’ve been in discussions with clients about this and a recent turn of events immediately springs to mind.
One of my clients is about to commence a structured and managed Wills review process that will be carried out over the course of the next few months, but they were concerned about a gap in their knowledge of how to deal with certain types of Trust work. They didn’t want to take the risk of providing a service that they did not know enough about. I put them in touch with another of my clients who specialise in this area and they now have arrangements in place where this type of business can be passed from one firm to the other without the fear of the client being lost for other services.
An interesting thing happened at the meeting I attended when the arrangements were being worked out. The firm who didn’t provide the Trust work did provide a PPI Claims service to clients—a service that the firm that does provide the Trust work does not provide—and the discussion was widened to discuss reciprocal work which could be done in the PPI Claims area.
This is a very simple straight forward example of how two legal firms can collaborate to maximise the benefits that they are able to bring to their clients through referral from one to the other for specific types of work.
So, there we have it—not only did we have a collaboration for one type of business to be passed from one firm to the other—we had a reciprocal arrangement for another type of business to flow in the opposite direction. I do like happy endings and this one seems to me to be a perfect ending—a means of providing the client with a service whilst retaining the client as a client………..and new business being generated by each firm into the bargain!
Collaboration? For what purpose?
I have no problem with collaboration, and I know many firms that have both informal and formal relationships with other solicitors and for that many other types of businesses, for the referral or introduction of clients interested in other services. Many firms are not ‘full service’ and many individuals are asked about a service that they cannot supply. The referral network operates at different levels and you can pick and choose whether to recommend someone or suggest someone depending on the level of risk you want to subject yourself to.
Let me play Devil’s Advocate for a moment and ask – what is the objective? Everyone responds with the answer – “I don’t want to lose the relationship that I have with my client.” Fair enough, in principle, but what does that mean in reality? If you are the type of firm that does nothing in the way of client focussed business development – then what’s the point in pretending to yourself that you want to retain and develop a relationship with a client when in reality you don’t actually do anything? It’s all very well to recognise a potential value but if you then fail to capitalise on it, then you are only kidding yourself.
Isn’t this just a form of cross-selling? I work with new start-up law firms as well as existing practices. It is interesting to note that all the new starts are focussing on just one or two areas of work and in this scenario there is no interest in cross-selling. But I have also noticed that, generally speaking, established practices that do offer a range of work-types don’t have any methods for cross-selling either. If you won’t open up your client base to your partner colleagues, why would you open them up to other businesses?
Conversely, as has often been stated previously in this publication – the easiest people to sell to are existing clients. There is clearly a bit of a dichotomy here. Why is that?
Is it because Partners don’t really want to share? Is it too much bother?
Is it because it’s no one’s job to do this? Is there a perception that ‘selling’ is distasteful?
It’s probably all these things and more.
The first stage is recognising what you can and cannot do as a business in the whole. The second stage is about finding out how much the work you cannot do is worth and deciding if you want to do it yourselves or if it’s better to pass it on. If you pass it on then you need to work out who you can pass it too, assess the basis that you want to do this and the risks involved, and then monitor it yourselves.
Tip – Appoint someone to manage this. Whilst they are at it, get them managing all the client relationships across your whole firm. If it’s done correctly – it will more than pay for itself.
Simon Greig is Sales Manager of LawWare Limited, Edinburgh. Contact Simon at email@example.com
Working together is never easy. Indeed, some say that it’s even difficult for partners to work together in the same firm, so diverse are their interests, focus, methods and habits!
Collaborating with others is a whole new ballgame and there are certain things that need to be done at the very beginning to make sure that the arrangement gets off to the best possible start—it is only by doing so that can you ensure that the enterprise will be a success.
First: identify the services that you don’t want to or can’t provide but that your clients have told you they need.
Second: identify a firm that can provide this service (or ask around to find out about firms who may already have arrangements in place). Alternatively, consider joining the Connect2Law Network to access the very wide range of services available from a full service legal firm (more on Connect2Law on page 2)
Third: open up a dialog with the firm (or firms) you’ve selected and find out if they’re interested in providing a service to your clients and on what basis.
Fourth: ensure that the “ground rules” are in place and that there is clear understanding on each side that the client being passed on is only the client for the specific type of work.
Fifth: explore services that you provide that the other firm may nor provide and find out if some form of reciprocal arrangement can be put in place that would benefit both firms.
Sixth: if there is to be some form of fee sharing, make sure that you agree this at the outset and set in place systems to track which clients are passed so that you can monitor receipt of the share of the fee you are to receive.
Seventh: meet regularly with the firm you’re collaborating with to work out any issues that may exist in the process and to smooth out rough edges as you move forward—and continue to explore other areas where collaboration would benefit both firms.
How do you deal with conflicts?
It makes no sense from a risk management basis to act on behalf of two clients in a potential conflict situation even though you can do so in those very limited specific areas allowed by The Law Society of Scotland. Why don’t you consider having discussions with those solicitors you respect in another local firm and find out if they’d be interested in a reciprocal arrangement for conflict cases. I know some firms who will never act in a conflict situation and profit through reciprocal work by passing on clients so that the conflict situation is avoided—and it also means that you are likely to be able to charge a full fee for the work you do—as will the solicitor in the other firm……..think about it!
You can always formalise your arrangements….
Last year around this time I heard about Connect2Law from one of my colleagues. I thought that this was an excellent idea and spoke to Anne Macdonald who is the Manager of the Connect2Law Department of Harper Macleod. This is what I found out:
Connect2Law is an innovative referral and support network set up in Scotland by the award-winning Scottish law firm, Harper Macleod, to help smaller legal firms provide clients with a wider range of legal advice. Through Connect2Law member firms are able to extend their firm’s offering by utilising the services of specialists within Harper Macleod, on a non-poaching, fee share, referral basis. The theory behind the approach is that the service helps smaller firms retain their clients in the long term.
Anne, a Partner in Harper MacLeod commented at the time “Many smaller High Street firms have an impressive client list and consequently encounter a variety of interesting and complex cases for which they might not have the time, capacity or experience to handle alone. The demand for the Connect2Law service is continuing to grow – the fact that we now have 150 member firms and have recently reached our 1000th referral is proof of that. We would welcome any other firms with similar requirements to get in touch”
I subsequently had the pleasure of attending the Connect2Law Annual Conference and had the opportunity to speak to solicitors who had signed up to the Connect2Law network. Those who I spoke to said that they felt that Connect2Law was a valuable resource they could call on whenever necessary in the knowledge that their client would receive the correct advice when they could not provide it themselves. They would still retain that client for the services they did provide—and make some money out of it at the same time. What a comfort it is to know that you are not placing yourself at risk by doing things you know little about and making sure your client receives a service whilst still retaining the client as a client—nothing could be better!
You can find out more here.
Anne Macdonald can be contacted on 0141 227 9280 or email at
Brian O’Neill LL.B MBA, Business Consultant, t. 01294 833220, m. 07855 838395, e. firstname.lastname@example.org