There once was a law firm which marketed itself as being a team of lawyers with deep expertise in different areas of the law who worked together seamlessly to deliver the best possible outcomes for the clients. Let’s call them “Super Team Lawyers.”
Super Team compensated its lawyers for bringing in business by awarding origination credits to the lawyer who introduced the client or referral source to the firm and paying them a percentage of their originating credits.
Occasionally, this created a problem.
The most egregious example occurred when a partner brought in a new client, only to find out that one of the existing partners had a pre-existing relationship with the client and thought that she was entitled to the originating credit. An argument ensued, which went something like this:
Partner One: I dealt with that client years ago and they are mine.
Partner Two: I met the client recently. I took him to lunch. He never mentioned you. If he thought that you were still his lawyer, why didn’t he call you for this project?
So far, so good. These things can be worked out. But then Partner One did the unthinkable. She called the client and asked him who he thought his lawyer was. Super Team looked ridiculous.
Most of the time, the tension between “we are all a team here at Super Team” and “I compete with my partners for client credits so I can earn more money” is hidden from the clients, as it should be.
For example, it is not unusual for lawyers who market in teams to be asked, “who should I call to go forward?” The correct answer is “call whoever you want to, as long as it is someone at our firm!”
Now, those of us who are not at our first rodeo know the rules of the game. So, for example, having been approached by an accounting firm for referrals and having been told to “call whoever you want to, because we are all one big, happy family,” I might call my primary contact and ask, “is there an advantage to you if I call you with all of my referrals, even if the issue is within your partner’s area of expertise?” More often than not, the answer would be “yes,” so I would always call them.
And if the truth be told, when a new referral source called me and asked if they should contact me with all of their referrals to our firm, I made a quick calculation. If the potential referral source might repeat what I said, I would toe the party line and tell them to speak with whomever they were comfortable. If, on the other hand, I was confident of their personal loyalty to me, I would suggest that they filter everything through me.
After all, although putting the team first and having a positive and collaborative firm culture is crucially important, there is no point to being stupid about it.