Five Methods for Cultivating Referrals for Your Law Firm

by Debra Andrews | April 30, 2013

Referrals are the bread and butter of a law firm’s marketing and business development, but they rarely just happen.  While you may get an occasional referral from a former client or someone you know, this is inconsistent and won’t make a big impact on the firm’s revenue. This is why you need to step up your game and actively cultivate referrals to grow your firm’s business and bottom line. How can you proactively build referral sources and sustain these relationships to really grow your legal practice?

Oftentimes, the best referral sources are people who already have a relationship with your target clients. For example, if you are seeking to retain more small business owners as clients, consider developing relationships and building a referral network with CPAs, financial planners, bankers, commercial realtors, etc.  If you are looking to get referrals for more real estate litigation work, you’ll likely want to network and develop relationships with key decision makers at local municipalities and on zoning boards, as well as at construction and real estate development companies.

It sounds easy enough, but it takes time and effort to establish these relationships. Creating a business development plan with your goals and strategies for building referral networks is a great place to start. Following are five tips to help you get started.

Reinforce relationships with current clients. 

Existing clients are your best source of new revenue, so how can you leverage these relationships to generate referrals?  Staying top of mind is a key factor. Keep in touch with your clients through newsletters and email blasts and alerts with pertinent information about new legal updates and case developments. Highlight the firm’s successes, community involvement and charitable events, and include interesting profiles about staff members.   

It’s also good to remind clients about the firm’s full range of services in order to cross-sell and market other practice areas and offerings. Your marketing materials should always mention how important referrals are to your firm. Reach out to clients who have had positive experiences with your firm. They will likely be glad to provide comments and testimonials, and if you ask, they may refer your firm to a friend, co-worker or family member when a legal need arises.  

Give a referral to get a referral. 

Let’s say you have a case that poses a conflict or is outside of your firm’s area of expertise. You should refer that case to another lawyer with whom you can create a mutually beneficial referral arrangement. Lawyers who receive referrals from other lawyers are typically more likely to return the favor.   

Schedule a “meet and greet.” 

Identify your top five referral sources and make it a point to connect with them by scheduling an in-person “meet and greet” at your office or theirs. In this session, you’ll want to have an open conversation about potential business opportunities that could be mutually beneficial. Educate them on your target market and all the services and practice areas within your firm. But, keep in mind that developing a referral relationship is a two-way street.  It requires regular contact, and you should show as much concern for their business as you are asking them to show for your practice.  Learn about their target clients and their business development goals, and ask how you can assist them in achieving their goals. 

Build your reputation as an “expert.” 

To help attract referrals, it’s important to build up your reputation by promoting and marketing your legal expertise and showcasing your thought leadership.  Write articles and blogs for publication in prominent legal and trade publications, and on websites read by lawyers, clients and potential clients and referral sources. Become actively involved in prospective clients’ trade and community organizations – look for opportunities to network and speak in front of these groups to try to generate new business/referrals.

Maximize networking opportunities. 

While this is referenced above, it’s important to note that networking is so much more than exchanging business cards.  Before you attend a networking event, determine what your goal is, i.e., what do you want to accomplish? Be prepared and practice your “elevator speech” to briefly describe your professional background, what your firm does and how a contact could benefit from networking with you.  However, be careful not to make this all about you and your firm.  Listening is an equally important skill – so be attentive and hone in on the business expertise and experience of those you meet.  Consider jotting down important information you learn about them in a small notebook.  After a networking event, review your notes and conversations and promptly follow up with your new connections. A simple email can help initiate an ongoing dialogue and could lead to a long-term, trusting relationship down the road.

Referrals are indeed a powerful way for law firms to grow and maintain their practice. To yield a steady stream of referrals, take the initiative to develop a strategy, then get out there and proactively seek out the opportunities. When you get a referral from a current or former client or a business contact, send them a thank you note.  Acknowledging their efforts will demonstrate your appreciation and may encourage them to refer more business in the future.

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