Why Are Fee Earners Reluctant To Delegate Or Cross-Sell?
Do these sound familiar?
When it comes to improving efficiency at work, which in turn increases profitability and reduces stress, delegation is a key skill for fee-earners.
Cross-selling is a far easier, and more cost effective, way to generate work within a firm.
So why are both frequently an issue? How many times have you heard it being brought up in appraisals, departmental meetings, even in partnership meetings?
Having worked in law firms for nearly 18 years, and spoken to countless fee-earners in a variety of professional firms, these points come up time and time again. Do any of these sound familiar?
Three Reasons Fee Earners Won’t Delegate
- Loss of control. They don’t trust their support staff or junior fee earners (despite their competence). Does the fee earner demand to see everything? Are they unclear when giving instructions? Are they overly critical? This can be turned around.
- Fear of replacement. They may worry that a junior fee earner might replace them if given too much knowledge, or allowed to develop closer relationships with clients. They may be concerned that their role is at risk for a different reason. If they are busy and in charge, surely they are irreplaceable? Getting to understand this is key.
- Perfectionism or inflexibility. No-one else will do the work to the standard they expect. They often find different styles of presenting the same information unacceptable. Red-ink over every draft letter? Noticing this in yourself, or others, will make a difference.
Significant change in any of these usually involves new self-awareness and a different approach. Attending a training course (or demanding a change of them) is unlikely to make a difference, even if they can see some benefit in changing. Without understanding for themselves why they are acting in this way, and learning how they can transition to a new way of behaving, it is unlikely to remedy itself.
Three Reasons Fee Earners Won’t Cross-Sell
- Risk of an unhappy client. They have experienced it before, or worry that they will lose a client, or will have to deal with a complaint. It could be they don’t feel comfortable with the other fee-earner’s work, approach or personality. Perhaps they are not kept up-to-date with their client’s transaction. Bottom line, if it increases their stress, creates a risk of losing work, or takes up more time unnecessarily (all of which impacts on billing), they won’t do it. Take time to understand what their personal concerns are.
- No benefit to them. It is surprising how many firms keep no record of work being referred, nor is it taken into account in appraisals or bonuses. Fee earners need to prioritise. Their two main priorities are hitting client deadlines and achieving financial targets. If time spent cross-selling achieves neither, there is no motivation to do so.
- They don’t understand. There seems to be a belief that fee earners (and support staff) understand the work that other fee-earners do. This often isn’t the case. To make an active referral the fee earner has to feel confident in the basics (including pricing and the basic sequence of events), and when might be a good time to refer. Repeat training is key.
Whilst cross-selling can often be increased through discussion and putting procedures and incentives into place (have a look at this excellent paper for more tips on Cross-Selling by Berners Marketing, which came out whilst writing this article), the issues on delegation are harder to remedy with standard training.
To change behaviours which might hold a fee earner back from their full potential, or whose actions or attitude unwittingly impact on others in the firm, a different approach is usually needed. It needs to look at the why more fully.
Coaching uses a bespoke skill-set to:
- create new awareness as to why a fee earner is behaving as they are (particularly when they know it is unhelpful to them).
- develop a new useful mindset and approach for key issues.
- put into place practical steps to start changing unproductive or unhelpful behaviour.
- support the fee earner through the transition. Allowing for reflection, feedback and and advic,e as to what is happening when they try the new skills and approach
- ensures long lasting change (rather than trying for a few weeks before relapsing into the ‘old ways’).
Want to make your working life easier, or your firm more profitable, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact me here.
Simona is a professional coach, mentor, speaker, and solicitor.
She takes her professional coach and law firm expertise, into other firms, to drive profitability, communication and performance, to the next level.
Motivated individuals work with Simona on mindset and strategy to become more successful as a partner or fee earner, whilst leading a balanced life.
To find out more about coaching or to book her for your organisation, please email her on email@example.com or contact her here.