Legal services, including law firms, are among the most competitive industries to market and advertise. Due to high fees and wide margins, firms tend to have deep pockets to spend on advertising. It would be great if lawyers were rewarded with more work just based on merit alone. While there are many channels and methods to acquire new legal clients, referrals can be a prime source of new files for your practice.
So, how can lawyers get more referrals? Lawyers can get referrals from multiple sources. The two most lucrative are from 1) past and current clients and; 2) fellow attorneys practicing at other firms in different areas of law. Some law firms depend on referrals for every 9 out of 10 clients.
In this article, we’re going to look at the fundamentals and tactics that allow for referral business to flow in your law firm’s doors.
Fundamentals for Sustainable Law Firm Referral Growth
Credibility & Authority
Regardless of how your firm ultimately generates its clients and accounts from, credibility and authority are going to be paramount to your long term success. This means establishing a pristine and polished reputation within your market and industry. Clients are over the roof with the final work product your firm produces as well as how it structures and affects their organizations and businesses for the better.
As an attorney, you and your firm need to develop a reverence for being innovative and unparalleled in your approach to protecting and solving your clients’ problems.
Second, but equally as important is your attitude and execution around customer service. Yes, you have clients, not customers, but it still stands. You want to be communicating with your clients every step of the way. If you find that they are calling or emailing you for updates on their work, then you need to pay more attention to your customer service.
This quality needs to be met by your entire firm, not just you or several individuals. All attorneys, co-counsel and staff need to be willing to demonstrate exemplary communication and reporting skills to your clients.
This can even create a significant advantage for your practice. Your credibility and reputation must match or exceed that of other firms in your market.
Predictability & Consistency
The next part is being consistent. This is in everything you do both in serving the client to your marketing and business development activities. Developing systems, schedules, and processes at your firm will help this in terms of serving clients, making marketing decisions, partners retreats and more.
This will help drive efficiency, produce order and balance all of your value-adding activities. Have a schedule to follow and systematize your workflow. This will allow you to do so at a consistent pace, measure the time you spend on these actions and understand their associated ROI. Pencil in all you events and items. From content marketing, advertising, networking, business development and so on.
Getting Referrals from Clients
Clients can be a great source of referrals for your law firm. This is especially true for some areas of practice over others, such as family law, estate planning as well as business and corporate (when positioned correctly).
However, it requires following the fundamentals listed above. Clients that are ecstatic about their case results will refer new work to your firm. There, however, can be a caveat you’ll need to navigate once client referrals begin to snowball. If your firm has a superstar or several, then they’ll get the lion’s share of referrals. New clients will want to work with them specifically as that’s who referred them.
The key to this is managing the distribution of new work to other partners and associates. That may mean the rainmakers have to talk to the client and personally refer the new client to an in-house litigator or solicitor. When it comes to distributing the new referral work, the brand needs to take precedence over individual practitioners.
There are different methods to work with this properly. Your paralegals and support staff are on your front lines, communicating and interfacing with clients, many times, more regularly than the actual attorneys. Paralegals and case managers shared across lawyers can be beneficial in this regard. Having new clients feel more comfortable with something familiar.
Keep in Touch with Past Clients
Getting the most referrals possible out of your current and past clients may serve a critical role to your firm’s growth. Staying top of mind with them will do wonders for maximizing this effect. Read below on newsletters to see how you can get the most out of this.
Getting Referrals from Attorneys
Referrals are generated through business development. While a broad term, in this context, it means developing relationships and agreements with other lawyers and firms. Lawyers who see you as a competitor aren’t going to refer clients to you.
Lawyers who work in other areas of law are much more likely to. Usually, these relationships have to be symbiotic, meaning that you send them family and divorce clients, for instance, in exchange for corporate and commercial clients and work.
Furthermore, it’s probably more apparent by now why we discussed what I dubbed the fundamentals, being:
- Credibility & authority
- Consistency and predictability
- Customer service
Whether a client, acquaintance, family member or friend refer new business to your firm, their reputation is on the line. Your ability to produce referrals from your peers works off of these fundamentals. It is proportional to their confidence in you as an attorney to deliver in all of these areas.
If you have been referred new clients and work in the past and that has recently changed, then one of two things is likely the cause. Either
- Your peers are no longer as confident in your ability to deliver or;
- they’re affiliating with different lawyers or firms in your market.
The latter can be due to a financial incentive for referrals or because the alternative firm is delivering something your firm isn’t.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re hanging your shingle or merely expanding your referral network. Business development and establishing relationships with your peers is a critical component to attorney referrals.
It doesn’t need to be complicated either.
If you called up every lawyer in your area, be it 20, 50 or 100 and had lunch with each one, then you just have to open a dialog about seeking referrals. If on average you received one new client a year from 25 different lawyers in your area, that would be roughly 2 new clients per month.
Methods for Staying In Touch & Top of Mind
Business development is an integral part of generating referrals. Once connections are created with your peers, you now need to nurture the relationship. If you’re active in your legal sphere, traveling to conferences, then some of these connections will be maintained merely through meeting up with them and osmosis to an extent. But you’re not going to be able to manage all relationships this way.
In many cases, it will depend on how you want to spend your time. If you’re eager to keep your relationships strong, then this will require a larger time investment. It will depend on how many hours per year you devote to building and maintaining these connections and relationships. Some claim 200 hours per year is the sweet spot. Some lawyers may think that’s a lot, clocking in at approximately 4 hours per week while others may think it’s not enough.
The decision is ultimately on you. Whatever amount of time you decide to invest in developing relationships, there are some ways to spend your time strategically.
Prioritize Your Top Referral Sources
We all have the same amount of time and hours in a day. To make the most of your business development, give the most attention to the attorneys bringing you the most and best cases. It doesn’t have to be the lawyers necessarily bringing you the most cases.
A single, high-value case can be worth a dozen others. Some lawyers will have marketing or funnels that simply end up capturing these leads, whether it be in quantity or quality. Other times the lawyer will just have the best understanding of pairing a potential client with the right attorney.
The more time you spend with these top referral sources, the more likely they are to continue sending you cases and new work. Furthermore, the more time you spend with them, the more opportunity you have to talk shop and about the type of work you do. You are giving each other deeper insights and understanding to your firms’ respective strengths and weaknesses, specialties and more.
Use Conferences and Meetups Efficiently
Conferences are great places to learn about what’s going on in the industry. However, it’s also a great place to keep in touch with your peers from near and far. You may not think there’s much value in the events and talks at a particular conference. However, if you know that enough of your target peers and connections will be attending, then you can use this as a way to efficiently get some valuable facetime with other lawyers.
Newsletters: Automate How You Keep in Touch with Everyone
Keeping in touch with all your referral sources; attorneys, clients, business partners and more, your firm needs a scalable way to do so. Using a newsletter is probably the most efficient way to achieve this. They can either be physical or email. Both have their pros and cons.
Benefits to Email Newsletters
Using email newsletters is beneficial, as it’s cost-effective and highly scalable. After creating a template with an email campaign service, it can easily pull your law firm’s latest blogs from your website and fill out the newsletter template on the fly. Emails will allow you to send updates frequently and to a large audience.
Benefits to Physical Newsletters
Email takes the cake in benefits for efficiency and scale. However, there are several notable advantages with your firm using snail mail. Many email inboxes are cluttered with subscription emails and newsletters from tons of companies. Your firm will be among that group. With a physical newsletter, you’ll stand out.
There’s also a presence that these newsletters establish — a sort of prestige when designed, branded and printed correctly. Also, unlike email newsletters, these are in your subscribers’ homes and offices. Even when on a table or desk, a physical, well-branded newsletter can be efficient in keeping your firm top of mind.
What about Both?
You could also opt to use a combination of both. Email for your weekly or monthly digest, whereas a physical newsletter can be mailed out annually, quarterly or otherwise.