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Business Development

Why Won’t My Partner Cross-Sell Me?

By Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Well, really … why should he? I mean, knowing that people do things for their own reasons and not for yours, what’s in it for your partner to cross-sell you? Why should he introduce you to his client and promote you as someone who could help with a particular issue? Okay, I suppose there are several reasons you might suggest.

  • It’s the right thing to do. Says who? You think it’s the right thing to do because you stand to gain by it. But does he? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe he thinks (or thinks he knows!) that you’re not really very good at what you do. Or that you have a history of acting bad when it comes to clients. Or that you’re a mediocre lawyer. Perhaps none of those things are true, but does he know that they aren’t?
  • It’s the best thing for his client. We’ll assume your partner wants to do the absolute best by this client. If he does, he’ll find the absolute best person to help. Maybe that’s you. Maybe it isn’t. (See above for what he does and does not know.) Regardless, if there is a lawyer in another firm with a stellar national reputation, she would be the safe bet. Right?
  • It’s what you’d do. Is it? Really? Then you must do it all the time already. If you don’t … you should examine why you don’t. (You’ll learn a lot.) If you really do cross-sell, maybe you do have the right to feel that you are owed. But only a jerk would expect to be handed a client just because he’s owed. (See above for what’s best for the client.)
  • That’s what partners do. Not really. Partners share expenses and profits. Good partners provide emotional and intellectual support. They grow their business together. They demand and give the best of each other. They tell the truth. And they’re loyal. But they don’t sacrifice their clients for each other. That would be stupid. (See above for what they do and do not know.)

Get the message? Until your partner knows you are the best and the right lawyer for the job, you won’t be cross-sold. (Unless your partner’s nuts. But that’s another conversation altogether.) And it’s your job to make sure he knows you’ve absolutely got the right stuff.

Marketing to Your Own Partners

I know it seems weird to think in terms of marketing to your own partner. But for smart lawyers it is marketing job number one. And it may be your most challenging marketing task of all. Here are a few things you can do inside your firm.

  • Make sure others know what it is that you do. Don’t be one of those boring people who drone on and on about themselves. But do share stories about what you’re working on. Describe the challenges. Share the outcomes. And don’t forget to ask others what they are up to as well.
  • Publicize victories. If you’re in a largish firm, there are probably already institutional ways to do this—internal newsletter, intranet, internal blog. If not, find a way to do it in group meetings or casually over lunch. Maybe you could introduce a “what’s new” beginning to regular meetings during which everyone can share news, good and bad. Again, beware of boasting. But you’re a grownup, you know how to do this. At a minimum, you can tell about someone else’s victories, awards or promotions. Before long, they’ll be telling about yours.
  • Organize training sessions over internal lunches. Get your firm’s trusts and estates people to make a presentation about what your clients should know about estate planning—arming everyone with ways to help their clients informally. Follow up next month with something from the trial lawyers about how to assess a contingency fee case when choosing whether to take it on. The next month, a patent lawyer talks about the growing value of ideas in mergers and acquisitions. You get the picture. Educate each other and, in the process, you’ll grow to respect and admire each other. Who knows, maybe you’ll even want to introduce a client to each other.
  • Invite a colleague to join you for lunch with one of your important clients. Ask the right questions. Guide the conversation in the right way and your client will be moved to tell your partner how great you are and what you did for her lately. And, oh yes, you’ll be modeling the confidence you hope he’ll have to introduce you to one of his important clients.
  • Make him look like a hero. Let’s say there’s new law in your area of focus that you anticipate will affect a partner’s client. Put something simple in writing, like a cheat sheet, to help him speak knowledgeably about it to the client. Or maybe it’s a simple fact sheet that he can hand to the client. Both come with the expectation that “for more information” you will be brought in.

There’s more—so much more—you can do to help your colleagues help you. Goodness knows, they can’t do it without you.

Merrilyn Astin Tarlton is Partner/Catalyst with Attorney at Work. She has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She was a founding member and past President of the Legal Marketing Association, past President of the College of Law Practice Management and an LMA Hall of Fame inductee. She blogs about innovation at

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Illustration ©istock.

Categories: Business Development, Communications Skills, Daily Dispatch
Originally published June 4, 2012
Last updated May 5, 2018
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Merrilyn Astin Tarlton Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Merrilyn is the author of “Getting Clients: For Lawyers Starting Out or Starting Over.” She has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She is a founding member of the Legal Marketing Association, an LMA Hall of Fame inductee, and a past President of the College of Law Practice Management. Merrilyn was a founding partner of Attorney at Work. 

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