Whether you are a solo attorney or in a big firm, the ability to generate business is critical to your success. But we all struggle with how to do it without draining our bank accounts. So here are some tips on how you can get a referral business running on a budget — like I did.
1. Ask new lawyers for referrals. All lawyers have at least one thing in common — we must pass the state bar exam. That means the state bar has a record of all lawyers, right? Have you thought about calling and asking for a list of all the lawyers who passed the most recent bar exam? I did. The Texas State Bar will not only send you a list of all lawyers who passed the last bar exam, they will preprint them on mailing labels for you. My cost was under $25.
Of course, you will want to check your state bar’s rules on solicitation, but think about it: Every new lawyer is looking to network and develop contacts. They are deciding what cases they want to handle and what ones they don’t. Why not write to the newly admitted lawyers in your area and introduce yourself? Offer yourself as someone they can call for free advice on starting their practice, handling their first case in your area of expertise and so on. Some will take you up on it. Some will refer you the case instead. Win-win. I have made numerous connections over the past 20 years by doing this.
2. Sign up for state bar lawyer referral programs. Many state bars have lawyer referral programs that are relatively inexpensive. You may be required to show proof of malpractice insurance and file case reports, but it is generally cheaper than advertising. Contact your state bar or visit its website and get on the list for your area. (Here’s the state-by-state list of referral programs on the American Bar Association website.)
3. Volunteer to be a mentor. More and more lawyers are going out on their own straight out of law school due to the economy and oversaturation of attorneys in the marketplace. They need advice from time to time. Many bar associations offer free mentorship programs for new lawyers who want some advice from a more experienced attorney. Why not volunteer?
Keep in mind there are many different types of bar associations — including state, city and county bar associations, specialty and political bar associations. Check with those that include your specialty and see if you can volunteer to mentor lawyers in your field. When those people get a case that is too big or complex, they are likely to return the favor by referring that case to you.
4. Become known as a credible expert in your field. Of course, establishing yourself as an expert in your practice area or niche is a great way to get referrals from clients and other lawyers. There are several ways you can do this. Writing articles in the local paper or trade magazines can be a great way to be seen. Also, offer yourself up as an expert to news media outlets and websites. HARO.com stands for Help A Reporter Out. Sign up with them and you will be sent a weekly list of subjects for which reporters are seeking experts to interview. Follow them and pitch your idea for a story in your expertise. Teaching continuing legal education programs live and online is another way to be seen as an expert. All of these ideas set you up as a credible expert when a lawyer who “does not handle that” needs to refer a client out.
5. Focus on finding friends, not just clients. Contrary to popular belief, people do not come to you so that you can tell them what to do. They come to you looking for advice. Often, they have a preconceived notion of lawyers and it is rarely good. Change their perspective. Listen to them. Talk to them like a friend discussing options, not like a lawyer. When the case is over, they should feel like they made a good choice coming to you because you explained their options and let them make informed decisions. When they feel that way, then you can ask them as a friend to recommend you to their friends and family.
Paul H. Cannon is a trial attorney, shareholder in, and online marketing manager for Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. He has been practicing personal injury law since 1995 and was certified in personal injury trial law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 2005.
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