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Strengthen the CPA/attorney relationship

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September 14, 2011

There’s nothing better than a warm referral – and most CPAs are always on the hunt for new sources. One great potential lead source that is often overlooked is the attorney who practices in areas that are complementary to your expertise.

 “I find that networking with attorneys is one of those few win-win opportunities for both of us,” said Steven J. Elliott, tax director at Schwartz & Co, LLP. “There are often many referral opportunities for work that the other professional provides.”

Elliott believes the attorney benefits in two ways. First, he benefits by making a known referral; second, by receiving referrals regarding a need for an attorney related to his area of practice.

Sounds like a great win-win, so I interviewed a number of CPAs who have been successful in working with attorneys in order to learn about their best practices for developing meaningful, productive, mutually beneficial relationships.

How to build and cultivate relationships with attorneys

Howard Grobstein, a partner and leader of forensic services group in Crowe Horwath’s audit and financial advisory practice, believes that best practices to build relationships with attorneys for business development involves two main components.

“First and foremost is providing high-quality work and exceptional service,” said Grobstein. “Attorneys have different styles and expectations, so CPAs should listen to what the attorney needs. They need to make sure they can present their expertise in a style that will be acceptable to the attorney and only take on those engagements where they can meet expectations, and perform with high quality and efficiency. My practice has developed because I make sure that I can do the project based on how that specific attorney works.

“The second component is to develop relationships with attorneys that transcend the time and effort spent on a particular engagement," said Grobstein. “My experience has proven that the likelihood of being retained again is higher if the relationship evolves into something stronger than a mere working relationship. I believe that the best referral sources are your friends since they are more likely to call you when opportunities present themselves.”

Importance of building strong, genuine relationship

Many CPAs agree that strong relationships are the real key – it’s better to have a smaller number of close relationships, than a larger network that is loosely tied together.

Jacob Renick, chair of the New York State Society of CPAs Litigation Services Committee, elaborated: “You can’t expect attorneys to send you business unless you have a very strong relationship with them. It has to be a one-to-one relationship. You’re better off having relationships with five attorneys rather than 30, if you have deep and solid relationships with those five.”

Mark Eiger, CPA, a New Jersey-based accountant, agreed: "The best way to strengthen the relationship between accountants and attorneys is to actually build a relationship. It takes time to develop quality referral partners. You'll have more of an appreciation for the person's work and capabilities if you get to know that person personally."

To be continued in Part Two.

Brett Owens is chief executive and co-founder of Chrometa, a Sacramento, Calif.-based provider of time-tracking software that records activity in real time. Previously marketed to the legal community, Chrometa is branching out to accounting prospects. Gains include the ability to discover previously undocumented billable time, saving time on billing reconciliation and improving personal productivity. Brett can be reached at 916-254-0260 and brett@chrometa.com.

 

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