The beginning of the year is a great time to bring a new focus and intensity to building your practice, and one of the best ways to generate more and better work is to concentrate on improving your referral sources.
If you’re unhappy with the referrals you’re receiving from other lawyers as well as your options for referring clients with problems in areas of the law that you don’t handle, my most recent SimpleSteps column in the January/February issue of Law Practice magazine has suggestions for some easy things you can do to improve your referral network. If you don’t have time for the entire article, here are the high points:
Decide What You Want
Think critically about the type of practice you have now, what unmet legal needs exist in your community and what you might be able to do to meet those needs. Set a limit on the number of practice areas your practice will cover. Then, establish written criteria for the cases that you will take. This will help you to easily spot cases that don’t fit within your plan and help you to stay firm in your resolve to stick with that plan. Knowing exactly what you are looking for will make the case review and intake process easier, and will also help you to streamline and automate the way you handle these new cases once you sign them up, allowing you to build practice efficiencies.
Tell Other People Who Can Help You
Once you’ve decided what types of new business you’re looking to attract, network with others to seek their help. Your friends and colleagues can’t send you referrals if they don’t know that you want them or don’t know what type of referrals you’d like to receive.
Think strategically about who you know that might be in contact with your target clients—especially those lawyers you might be able to repay by making referrals in turn—and arrange to spend time with them in a comfortable setting. Educate these potential referral sources about the type of practice you’re trying to build and how they can help, and brainstorm about how you might be able to help each other. You may often be surprised to find that your fellow lawyers, who don’t practice the same type of law you do, often have no idea where to send clients that they can’t help. Seek out other solos and small firms with different practice niches until you’ve created a network that enables you to be more of a full service legal provider.
Say “Thank You”
Here in the South, the handwritten thank-you note, while maybe not as common as the common sparrow, is hardly an endangered species. If someone does something nice for you, the right thing is to let them know that you appreciated it—especially if you’d like for them to keep doing it! Whatever the custom in your area, take it to the next level and let those who refer good cases to you know just how thankful you are for their thoughtfulness. Expressing your true appreciation helps build personal relationships and encourages the objects of your gratitude to continue to do nice things for you. We all should have learned this as children, but in the rush of the modern law practice we sometimes forget.
Ask How You Did
Finally, you need to keep up with where your clients come from. This will let you know who your good business sources are, facilitating your ability to thank them, and also helping you regularly follow up on all referred cases. Monitoring feedback from your referral sources is the best way to make sure referrals keep coming.
Few of us like to be judged – especially negatively, but it’s important to contact your referral sources from time to time to make sure they are happy with the way referrals are being handled. Referral sources will seldom risk mutual embarrassment in order to tell you something you need to know: that they were dissatisfied with the way you handled a referred matter.
When contacting your referral sources, ask specifically whether the referred client reported being happy with the referral, and whether the referring lawyer was happy with the length of time it took you to see the client, the fee charged and the frequency with which you reported on the status of the case. Take any criticism you receive with good grace, and offer ways to improve the situation. If you can build confidence in your referral sources that your goal is to continuously improve the way you handle the cases they send your way, you will be the first lawyer they will think of when the time comes to refer a client. And that’s the real goal, after all.