Like many attorneys, you’re probably hesitant to take on prospective clients with legal issues outside of your wheelhouse. But by turning away potential cases, you’re doing the individuals — and your firm — a major disservice.
While I am speaking as a lawyer, this advice applies to many other service providers as well.
You might not know much about animal liability cases, but perhaps you know someone who does. Instead of closing the door on a client, you can take on the case and refer the client to a lawyer with more experience in that particular field. In doing so, you connect the client with the most knowledgeable representation possible, expand your network and build credibility for your own firm.
Why You Should Expand Your Business With Smart Networking
Although you don’t have the specific knowledge to take on every case, establishing a network of referral relationships gives you access to a wide range of litigation knowledge. And by bringing more lawyers on to a case, everyone involved stands to benefit.
1. More clients get represented without exhausting your workload.
Lawyers are constantly bogged down with cases. Referring specialized cases to lawyers with more experience in that area means less work for your firm and a greater chance for client success. And by adding more lawyers to a case, you’re enhancing the client’s experience and providing additional resources for questions and updates.
It’s important to remember that the referring lawyer shares 100 percent liability for the case, so it’s not completely off their plate. But attorneys can come close to handing over a case to another lawyer while still charging a fee. This relationship is especially prevalent in plaintiffs’ litigation. By referring cases outside of your expertise, you can increase revenue without draining resources.
2. You create a reciprocal learning environment.
Our firm utilizes co-counsel on many occasions, but we tend to stay involved for a number of reasons. Most of lawyers’ learning takes place in the field. Working with co-counsel offers real-world learning experiences that will help you become a stronger, more balanced professional. Plus, by staying involved, you can monitor the representation to make sure it meets your standards and you can serve as another client resource.
Lawyers have the education and general litigation knowledge to handle most legal matters. But most lawyers (and clients) benefit when they bring on another attorney who already has the kind of experience that will benefit the case.
3. The referral cycle comes full circle.
Most importantly, other lawyers appreciate when you think of them and send clients their way. In turn, they’ll think of you in the future. It’s the lifeblood of the attorney world. The best clients are typically the ones who’ve been referred. They’ve been “pre-sold” to believe that you’re the most qualified attorney for the case, and understand the value your firm can provide.
Best Practices for Establishing Referral Relationships
Leveraging referral relationships allows your firm to take on more cases while providing the best possible representation. But you can’t blindly refer cases without establishing relationships with lawyers and firms that you can count on. Here are a few tips for building a reliable network:
1. Actively seek opportunities.
We ask our colleagues for recommendations on a case-by-case basis. Always keep an eye and ear out for opportunities to collaborate with other attorneys, even if you don’t have a relevant case yet.
To keep track of potential referrals, we created a database including notes on the relationship and recommendations for endorsing each attorney.
2. Don’t refer arbitrarily.
Bringing on co-counsel can be incredibly tempting during busy times, but if you don’t know a referral attorney personally or have a direct recommendation from someone you trust, it’s best not to send them a client. Remember, you’re liable for any mishaps.
3. Collaborate with firms you trust.
This ties in with the previous tip, but it’s more comprehensive. Unfortunately, some firms don’t have the financial backing to pay for referrals, so make sure you choose a solvent firm that you can trust financially.
Many of our daily tasks include following up with people. I set tasks to make sure those I work with have responded to emails or completed tasks that I sent weeks earlier. Don’t assume that everyone is good at task management. When choosing between two otherwise equal firms, opt for the one that communicates best and manages tasks efficiently. It will save you time, money and stress in the months to come.
5. Keep business processes up-to-date.
As your network of referral relationships grows, it becomes increasingly difficult to manage each case and maintain consistency.
If you fail to record and update a document or processes manual that lays out protocol for new employees, you can’t standardize the process. Make sure to include pertinent information — such as which attorneys you refer for each type of case — how often you follow up and what fee splits you’ve negotiated. Keep this information up to date, and make it accessible to all employees.
No firm wants to bear the reputation “jack of all trades, master of none.” Leveraging referral relationships gives you the chance to focus on what you do best while providing value to clients and other lawyers. And by utilizing other “masters,” you will grow as an attorney, have more time to spend excelling in your own niche and see more referral clients come your way.
A version of this article was originally posted here.
Anthony C. Johnson is a managing partner attorney at Johnson & Vines, PLLC (The Lawyer) and the CEO and co-founder of the American Injury Attorney Group (The Ad Man). He received his BA at the University of Arkansas in Computer Engineering and his Juris Doctor from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. His law practice started as a general practice but has since shifted towards mass torts, medical device litigation & other serious personal injury cases. Johnson’s interests expand beyond the practice of law especially in the fields of business and technology. He was recently featured on the 2014 Empact Showcase of Top 100 entrepreneurs under 35 across the country. He is on The National Trial Lawyers 40 Under 40 list. He was listed by Arkansas Business as one of the “20 in their 20’s” to look out for in 2012. He was also featured in the April 2012 cover story of the American Bar Association’s Journal as one of “America’s Techiest Lawyers.
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