The Anatomy of Attorney Referrals

What Is the Mindset of the Referral Before They Meet You?

referral looking for lawyerToday’s legal professional must present the world a polished and comprehensive spread of information, designed to clearly communicate the answers to two questions:  1) Why Should I hire you?, and 2) Can I Connect with You on a Human Level?

The first question “Sarah” (the referral) will often ask you in person as well.  The second question may not be spoken aloud, but is one of the most important things to consider when marketing yourself and your practice.  The legal practice has taken a beating in the public perception over the past few decades.  Whether you wish to discuss the “hot coffee in the lap at McDonalds” example or the political neutering of fundraising sources, the public has been fed image after image and story after story of lawyers which is unabashedly negative, and I would posit wholly untrue.

Referrals are looking for a lawyer that can handle their case and bring them the best possible result.  They are also considering what it will be like to work you, and what to expect when it comes to their case.  Money is a factor, and the financial aspect of the relationship should be addressed.  Another common question in the mind of many legal consumers is “can I handle this on my own, without an attorney?”  (editor’s note: UGH!  Are they really unaware of Lincoln’s admonition about representing yourself in a legal matter?)

The Process of Referrals for Lawyers Has Changed

Attorney Giving a ReferralThe process of referrals has substantially changed over the past 3 to 5 years.  10 years ago, attorneys generally invested the time to build a referral network, a group of other lawyers who did not compete directly against them who were willing to refer cases they could not or did not wish to handle.  The process in those days was something like this:

Potential Client (“Sarah”) is sitting with a lawyer in our referral network, we’ll call him “Bob”

Bob would tell Sarah about you (giving you high praise) and pick up the phone to call you

Bob would hand the phone to Sarah and the two of you would schedule an appointment

Sarah would in all likelihood not contact other attorneys, but would come visit you personally and retain you

The fact pattern may have varied a bit, but that’s pretty much how it worked.  Direct referral.  The focus of most attorneys was to build and foster their referral network, and business would take care of itself.

The past few years have brought tremendous change to the referral process, and we must embrace this and change our tactics accordingly.  It is absolutely important to maintain your own referral network, and to foster those relationships.  People still do business with people.  However, today the referral process is much different:referral doing research

  • Bob is required by propriety (and his malpractice insurance) to give 3 to 5 names to Sarah, instead of just yours
  • She leaves Bob’s office with some names, and at best one of your business cards (and perhaps a few others)
  • People are much more open about their legal issues today, and Sarah actively asks her social networks for names of good attorneys (10 years ago Sarah would never have hinted that she was in financial straights; Today she brazenly asks her social network “does anyone know a good bankruptcy lawyer?”
  • Sarah does her own research on the internet and comes up with several names of her own
  • Sarah takes the names she received from your referral network friend, her social network and her own circle of friends and sits down at a computer and starts plugging them into a search engine.  The quantity and quality of information that presents itself in those searches will make an impact on her perception of the attorneys she is considering, and she will use this to narrow it down to a few to now visit

Are you one of them?  What type of information did Sarah see when she put your name into Google, followed by (attorney or lawyer – each searched equally by the way) and perhaps a city or regional nickname?  (note: This is also a component of “Reputation Management”.)

The central questions to consider are:

Have you noticed the change in your own referral business?

What do you really need to pay attention to, and what can you defer or ignore?

What are the elements of a proven successful strategy for winning the referral contest, and retaining these critical clients?

Interested in Learning More?

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NeilThe Anatomy of Attorney Referrals