Learn about five different rules that you must consider when sending referrals to your colleagues.
For many lawyers, sending referrals is one of the best ways to ensure that they will receive referrals in return. But this is a delicate and sometimes tricky process.
If you’re causing more harm than good when sharing referrals, then your peers will be less inclined to return the favor down the road.
Follow these five rules to make sure you’re sending high-quality referrals to your peers, and building strong and impactful referral partnerships.
1. Don’t Refer Crap Cases
Whether you are referring for the first time or are reciprocating, referring a crap case will jeopardize your reputation. By sending a bad case, instead of the receiving attorney owing you one, you will owe them. The recipient may feel compelled to take on the case as a courtesy to you, but they will view the referral as value given to you, not them.
You know the cases we’re talking about:
- The ones with legal theory problems;
- where the client fires litigation counsel at the slightest hiccup;
- when the clients are bad payers;
- where clients have a reputation for stiffing their lawyers or are just difficult to deal with; or
- in cases where there just isn’t much value.
Always be up front with a referral partner if you send a case that is less than ideal. Tell the receiving lawyer what you know about the case so they can properly assess the risks of accepting it.
Also, it is courteous to let the recipient know that you will not be insulted, nor will it affect your referral relationship if they decide to not take on the case. You don’t want them to feel obligated to take on the case just for the sake of your relationship.
2. Know the Receiving Attorney’s Ideal Clientele
Referring a case that’s a poor fit for the recipient’s practice is worse than not referring at all.
It sends a message that you didn’t respect the recipient enough to take the minimal effort required to understand her ideal client. This is especially damaging when you are trying to reciprocate from a previous referral. The recipient has already demonstrated her value and understanding of your practice with her original referral.
There is little risk and no excuse for not learning about the recipient’s practice. Your ignorance makes a terrible impression on the prospective client, whose time you’ve just wasted.
Tip: How to refer if you’re unsure whether a case is a good fit
Ideally, you will know the receiving attorney’s ideal clients prior to making a referral. However, sometimes referrals come up that you think could be a good fit, but you may not be sure.
In this case, be honest about it. Call the other attorney and explain that you may have a referral, but that you are unsure if it is a good fit. Then ask the attorney if it is an appropriate referral.
By calling first, you will get credit just for considering the attorney, which could lead to reciprocal referrals in the future.
3. Make Sure the Receiving Attorney is a Good Fit for the Client
Remember, your reputation is on the line, not only with other attorneys but with prospective clients as well.
Know the recipient’s reputation in the community:
Find out how they relate to clients. Are they no-nonsense, tell-it-like it is counselors or do they take more of an empathetic consultative approach with clients?
Know their lawyering style:
For example, don’t send a client to a divorce attorney who has a reputation for being a “killer” when all they really want is a low key mediation.
Know something about the receiver’s rates and billing style:
Are they high rate billers? Are they low rate, slow billers? Do they review every nuance of a client’s matter, whether necessary or not (and on the client’s dime), or are they efficient about their work, even offering flat fee billing?
If the client doesn’t know what they prefer, make them choose:
If the client is unsure about their needs or preferences, provide the client with information about the recipient’s style and let the client choose. Armed with enough information to make an informed decision, if the referral ends up not being a good fit, you will bear less responsibility for making a bad recommendation.
4. Always Pre-sell the Receiving Attorney
A referral that closes easily is highly valued. It demonstrates that you have taken the time to send a very qualified lead to the recipient.
A referral that takes a lot of effort to close is little more than a cold lead. While all leads are generally appreciated, cold leads have substantially less perceived value.
One way to turn a cold lead into a hot lead is by pre-selling the receiving attorney to the prospective client.
Explain to the client why you think this lawyer is a good fit, how you know them (if appropriate) and positive experiences that you’ve had with the attorney. If you’ve had limited experience dealing with the receiving attorney, let the client know, but also let the client know why you are recommending this attorney
5. With Permission, Send the Client’s Contact Info to the Receiving Attorney
Good referral partners understand how business flows to and from their referral partners’ practices.
Leads that include the prospective client’s contact info are better than leads that don’t. The former gives the receiving attorney an opportunity to pursue the lead directly, increasing the likelihood that it closes. Therefore, referrals with client contact details have higher reciprocal value than those without.
Of course, make sure you get the client’s approval before sharing their contact details with the receiving attorney
Incorporate these rules into your daily referral process and you will not only be helping your peers, but you will notice a difference in the quality referrals you receive as well.