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Lawyers often pursue new clients at the expense of servicing and marketing to existing clients. This is a mistake. It’s also a mistake to pursue new referral sources at the expense of your existing referral network. Your existing network should be your priority. Only seek out and develop new referral sources once you’ve taken care of your existing network. Here are five tips for nurturing your referral network.
If you don’t have a system to keep you organized and on track, then you’re just shooting from the hip. Technology is great for this. Your practice management system probably has some CRM features built in. If not, no worries. A perfectly acceptable bare-bones system would be a piece of paper or simple spreadsheet listing the names of each referral source. Each quarter of the year (see No. 2 below), you’d write down what you did with, or for, the referral source (had lunch, sent email update, paid a referral fee, etc.).
At the end of the quarter, you’d just copy your list over to a new piece of paper or worksheet and start over. It doesn’t have to be complicated.
If you want your network to think of you when something comes up, you probably need to have three to five points of contact per year. Otherwise, they may just forget about you. Not all points of contact need to be time-consuming or expensive — you don’t need baseball games or dinners. A five-minute conversation to catch up in the courthouse hallway is perfect. Likewise, a personalized email with no strings attached will work wonders. (“Hi Christine, How are you doing? I saw this article and thought of you. I’m sure you’re busy. No need to respond. I hope all is well!)
Your goal should be to contact each referral source once a quarter. That should allow you to hit three to five times per year. And remember, more isn’t necessarily better. You may become annoying if your contact becomes unnatural or too frequent.
This is a matter of professional courtesy. If someone is kind enough to refer a matter to you, you must keep them apprised of the milestones. At a minimum, let them know if you accepted or rejected the representation and update them upon conclusion of the representation. It may make sense to provide more frequent updates. No one is asking you to divulge client confidences here; you can keep it general. Here’s an example: “Hey Tom, I just settled Mary’s case for her. She was very happy with the outcome. Thanks again for sending her over!”
In some states, appreciation is shown by referral fees. That’s fine. But those are typically paid at the end of a case. You cannot wait this long to show appreciation. As soon you undertake the representation, you need to show your appreciation.
Figure out if your state allows you to give anything of value. For example, in California you can give gifts to non-attorney referral sources so long as they are purely gratuitous (i.e., no quid pro quo). You need to know if your state allows gifts. If it does, your referral source is probably receiving gifts from other lawyers. You don’t want to appear cheap because cheap equals unappreciative.
If gifts are permissible, the value of the gift should be commensurate with the value of the case referred. A $50 bottle of wine is probably fine for a routine fixed-fee case, but it won’t cut it on a six-figure personal injury case.
Technology is great for automating rote tasks. Nurturing your referral network is not a rote task. Most people are tech savvy enough to know when something, such as an email, has been automated. Honestly, it’s worse to send an obviously automated communication than to send nothing at all. Being on the receiving end of automation masquerading as personalization feels gross. So, handwrite your notes, sign your letters by hand, draft personalized emails — and don’t outsource any of this.
Robert Theofanis is a workers’ compensation attorney based in Los Angeles. He earned a J.D. cum laude from the University of Notre Dame Law School and a B.A. in Physics cum laude from Occidental College. Robert blogs on entrepreneurship for attorneys, marketing, and modern legal practice.
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