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How can conveyancing solicitors turn one-off property transactions into fruitful, long-term relationships for their firm? Rachel Brushfield provides a beginner’s guide to cross-referring between practice areas

Buying or leasing a property is an occasional purchase for the client, but a frequent transaction for solicitors. Every transaction represents an opportunity to develop a lasting relationship with that client for the whole firm. Clients have multiple legal needs at different stages of their lives, careers and businesses, and the potential to support these needs and increase fee-earning is huge for a firm with multiple departments. But a scattergun approach isn’t sufficient in today’s highly competitive environment. Below, I provide some tips for setting up a process, rewards system, and skills development scheme, to ensure cross referral happens consistently and effectively.

Exceptional client service

Buying, selling or leasing a property, whether for personal or business use, is a big decision for a client, with multiple ramifications and consequences that last long into the future. It is an incredibly emotional purchase – creating security, peace of mind, protection of family / reputation and image, cashflow, and many other things. Shouldn’t solicitors treat every property transaction as the precious thing that it is for clients, rather than a repetitive transaction of deeds, contracts etc?

Fees derived from cross referral could be the key to keeping your firm growing and healthy through uncertain times

Surprising and delighting a client is more likely to lead to client satisfaction, creating a foundation for the potential provision of lifelong legal services for them, paving the way for potential cross referral, healthy firm growth and sustainable success.

Ask your clients to fill in an online or paper feedback form at the end of the transaction, once completion has happened, including prompting them for further legal needs, such as a will. This helps you understand how you can improve your service, and offers immediate leads for cross referral, but it has other benefits, too. You can ask the client to think about who they have in their network who is thinking of moving home or offices. You can request a client testimonial to use in marketing to attract further clients and enhance your firm’s reputation. An incentive can be provided for the client to make time to complete the feedback.

Partnership - a lawyer and her client setting out along a road towards signposts

© omadoig@btinternet.com

When asking clients for feedback on paper, or to let you know what services they’re interested in, include a stamped envelope or postcard, addressed back to the firm to make it easy and free for them to action. The postcards can feature different departments and key messages, such as benefits to clients, based on the information you’ve proactively gathered about their needs.

You can further exploit the potential of this feedback by diarising a future follow-up telephone or face-to-face meeting with the client, to get an update on their career, domestic and business situation, and needs – this can really help property solicitors to cross-refer within their firm, as well as leaving the client feeling really valued.

Simple touches like sending a card on the first anniversary of a client’s house purchase are low-cost ways to keep in touch, refresh your firm in clients’ minds, and offer the ‘human touch’. You can also use this approach to inform clients about relevant or new legal services you offer.

Data mining for long relationships

Gathering useful data at the outset of a transaction will ensure that insights are available to develop additional services to the client at an appropriate future date. A detailed client questionnaire at the start of the property transaction journey is useful to elicit relevant information in an unobtrusive way. It can also enable future client segmentation and the development of client archetypes (groupings of demographic, psychographic, financial and other criteria), for better targeting your firm’s communications and deciding who’s involved when.

Utilising a placement student or intern (paid) for such a project is a great way to make this happen more quickly than for busy fee-earners to do it in their ‘spare’ time. A clearly defined project to mine data from clients could start with interviewing solicitors to understand what information would be helpful to them, then designing a client questionnaire and feedback questionnaire on that basis set up a review of the process after six months, to make any necessary refinements to the approach.

Systems and processes to enable cross referral

Lack of time and pressured deadlines are common barriers which prevent cross referral from happening. You need to develop and internally communicate clear processes and systems for cross referral to ensure it is high up the priority list for fee-earners, and they know what is expected of them and how to achieve it.

Start by doing an audit of your staff to determine competencies and qualities for cross referral (eg proactivity, identifying client needs, thoughtfulness). Identify any gaps and fill them through appropriate training, mentoring etc. Training in active listening and asking clarifying questions can be particularly beneficial. These skills are invaluable for, among other things, eliciting clients’ needs, and managing and motivating staff more effectively.

Develop a list of high-quality, open questions to elicit relevant information from clients.

Analyse your client files to identify clients’ likely needs based on their life stage, and their propensity to purchase higher-margin services (such as probate and trusts as opposed to a will), based on their home location and salary bracket. Develop a list of high-quality, open, incisive questions to elicit relevant information from clients. Make fee-earners accountable to follow up and better understand clients’ broader legal needs. Publish the guidance on your firm’s intranet and in the staff handbook, to make what is expected explicit.

Put cross-referral conversations in the diary each month at the start of a new financial year so that they become a regular habit. You could try running these meetings in a speed networking format, followed by drinks, to make them enjoyable as well as productive. Once these are established, review the design and results of these meetings to ensure that solicitors remain engaged in thinking about each other, seeing the results of their efforts, and reducing a silo mentality.

Share information on performance with staff, using a colour-coded system (red, amber, green) to illustrate which client work resulted from cross referral; this ensures the information can be taken in by fee-earners quickly, and focuses their minds on cross referral as a high priority.

Put in place a system for recognising and rewarding referrals to other practice groups, new client wins, and additional business from clients, so that engagement and focus are maintained. Publicise and celebrate success: this helps to reinforce cross-referral behaviours such as proactivity, thoughtfulness, being collegiate and being goal-focused.

KPIs for cross referral

What gets measured gets done. Set specific key performance indicators (KPIs) for gathering client data and measuring the frequency and value of cross referral for all fee-earners. Include cross referral in annual appraisals for fee-earners, to emphasise its high priority for the firm.

Providing an incentive can instil a competitive spirit to make cross referral a priority amid the myriad tasks that solicitors have to do as part of their role.

It is easy not to do cross referral. But it is easy for it to happen if the right policies, systems and rewards are put in place. Fees derived from cross referral could be the key to keeping your firm growing and healthy through uncertain times in a fast-changing legal landscape.

Nine more tips to help make cross referral happen

  1. Record the source of all clients (new, repeat, original client source etc) to monitor business growth.
  2. Create a client relationship management (CRM) system to monitor client activity and record data and useful information. Set automated reminders in the system for ‘check-ins’ with clients.
  3. Map the client journey to identify the best points in time to elicit their other legal needs.
  4. Analyse the behaviours of high-performing cross-referrers, so that other lawyers can model their behaviours.
  5. Conduct mystery shopping research to evaluate the quality of the client experience and inform client communication.
  6. Do a ‘lunch and learn’ session to identify fee-earner motivations to help energise cross-referral activity.
  7. Introduce a competency framework to measure and evaluate staff on business development and client relationship management competencies and qualities, and use this to recruit new solicitors to improve the firm’s business development capability.
  8. Create an annual marketing plan for each department and review it to monitor incremental business and referrals from clients.
  9. Grade clients ‘hot’, ‘warm’ and ‘cold’ to guide the appropriate level of time spent on them.

Rachel Brushfield is a career, talent and learning and development strategist and coach. She has written a new Law Society Publishing book, Smarter Legal Marketing: Practical Strategies for the Busy Lawyer, published September 2018.

Law Management Section members are entitled to 20 per cent off the book using code LAWMN.

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