In our practices, we will often find ourselves on the receiving end of a phone call from a client who has a friend with legal needs far afield from our area of practice. Or we will find ourselves with personal or professional conflicts which require that we refer a case to another attorney.
As you build your practice, you should consider an essential tool of your practice to be a “referral network.” I do not (and ethically cannot) mean a formalized referral network where there is an agreement among attorneys in differing practice areas to only refer cases to each other. By “referral network,” I mean an informal list of attorneys in different practice areas with different fee structures whom you feel comfortable referring clients to when the need arises.
As you build your referral network, here are a few thoughts and ideas this blogger humbly suggests you keep in mind:
How do you create a referral network?
Bar association events are fantastic in this regard. In particular, young lawyers and new practitioner section events can be incredibly worthwhile. A five-minute conversation at the bar and an exchange of business cards can lead to a coffee or a lunch and, voila, you’ve got an attorney in your referral network.
A local Inn of Court is another terrific way to meet attorneys of a varying level of expertise and practice area, all of whom show their commitment to the legal profession by virtue of their commitment to the Inn.
Pair attorney fee structure with client needs
Some clients are clear that they are not interested in hourly representation and want either contingency or flat-fee work. Some types of legal practice lend themselves to this kind of alternative fee arrangement while others do not. Include in your referral network attorneys who represent the range of fee arrangements. Consider including attorneys in your referral network who practice in your same
practice area but offer a fee arrangement that you do not.
Pair attorney style with client objectives
Is this an attorney who is going to take a scorched earth approach to litigation? Is this an attorney who believes in a collaborative approach with litigation as a last resort? What is the client looking for? Is this a situation where bank accounts immediately need to be frozen and there is no time for pre-suit negotiations? Include attorneys of these varying styles in your referral network so that you can best pair
attorney and potential client when the need arises.
Refer cases to an attorney who enjoys the case
We all know general practitioners who handle everything from criminal law to family law to probate and everything in the general jurisdiction of the state’s trial courts. But even these general practitioners have cases that they particularly enjoy and have a deeper level of experience.
When you meet general practitioners at bar events and as you consider adding them to your referral network, keep an ear out for the types of cases that this attorney has particular experience or enjoyment handling. Or affirmatively ask the attorney if they have an ideal client or type of case. This, too, will help you best pair attorney and potential client.
What is the most important consideration when you make a referral?
Some attorneys will openly speak to the fact that their most important consideration when they make a referral is the likelihood of the referred attorney returning the favor. There is no doubt that we’d all like that, but I suggest that the single most important consideration is whether the attorney who you’re referring the case to is going to do well by the client.
When you make the referral, you are vouching for that attorney. The referral reflects on you. Not to mention that if you’re making a referral to anybody who has an existing relationship with one of your clients, you should expect your client to learn whether there is satisfaction with your referral.