Sunday, May 17, 2009

Why You're The Lawyer Who Gives And Gets Crappy Referrals

My friend Stephen Fairley over at The Rainmaker Institute just penned an article on the 4 myths attorneys believe about referrals.

His "myths:"

1. Clients are the best source of referrals.
2. Most referrals come from other attorneys.
3. Online legal directories produce a lot of referrals.
4. Formal networking is a great way to get more referrals.

After 15 years of building a practice by word of mouth, I will say this:

Stephen's right:

1. Clients are not the best source of referrals, but no one is better suited to talk about you as a lawyer - good, and bad.

2. Most referrals may come from other attorneys, if you have a certain type of practice. If not, remember that the recommendation of a peer, is as good as it gets.

3. Online legal directories do not produce a lot of referrals, but potential clients will go there to "check you out" after they receive your name.

4. Formal networking can be a great way to get more referrals, if you are doing formal networking to develop relationships, and not just pass out business cards.

Now here's how to give and get crappy referrals:

1. When asked for a referral to another lawyer, don't bother asking for details.

Clients will call and ask for a "top notch" real estate lawyer." Your lack of inquiry is met with a call from that "top notch" real estate lawyer asking why you referred him someone with no money who is getting evicted and is looking for some "pro bono" help.

2. Don't ask what the client means by "reasonably priced."

My definition of reasonably priced is this: $500. I believe every single person asking for a "reasonably priced" lawyer is looking to spend $500. So if you want to be known as that lawyer who always refers those $500 cases, never ask the client what they mean by "reasonably priced."

3. Never follow up.

You just got hired on a case. You just got a check for a few thousand dollars. Referring lawyer told you he didn't want a referral fee. Ever heard of a gift card? Wine? Lunch? That referring lawyer, knows 4 other lawyers who do what you do.

4. Don't educate lawyers who are referring you cases or ask about referring you cases.

There's nothing wrong with the following phrases: "I don't handle these types of cases;" "I'm not looking for people who have money issues;" "I'm happy to do payment plans, but they work like this......" "I do criminal defense, but not DUI;" "I do bankruptcy, but not personal bankruptcy, just corporate."

My favorite calls are "this guy called, but he has no money and I wasn't going to waste your time." Some people are just so eager to refer cases, they don't care about whether the lawyer is interested.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. Please visit

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