In my 18 years of counseling attorneys on how to build a robust referral network, I’ve seen that too many firms rely on random referrals, which is just what the term implies — referrals that may or may not come. A strong referral base is only built over a period of time, and is based on cultivating long-term, meaningful relationships with reliable sources.
Here are five fundamental keys to building a healthy referral network:
#1: Do not try to be a generalist. The fastest way to lose referrals from other professionals is by practicing several different kinds of law. In fact, every practice area you add over your primary one will cost you many, many referrals over time. For example, if most of your practice is transactional business law, and occasionally you take on a litigation matter for an existing client, but you introduce yourself at networking events and on your website as someone who does business transactional and commercial litigation, every litigation attorney will now see you as a competitor, not a potential referral source.
#2: Actively build relationships with at least five to 10 new referral sources each year. I know, it’s easier said than done, but the best way to have your practice “crash and burn” is to totally rely on a handful of referral sources. As the saying goes, “it’s not a matter of if, but when” one or more of your referral sources will dry up. Make it your goal to meet and develop at least one new referral source per month, then cultivate that relationship by staying connected every month. Remember, referrals are a numbers game. Not every referral source will be in a position to send you a referral every month, so if you are relying on three to five people to send you the bulk of your business, you can rest assured that you will have some really slow months. The most vibrant practices, have a constant influx of new referral sources on a regular basis.
#3: Keep in touch on a consistent basis, at least 5-10 times per year. This can be a combination of a “reconnecting” email, commenting on their LinkedIn or Facebook post, sending out a monthly newsletter, making a phone call, going to lunch, sending small thank you gifts, and visits to their office twice per year. If you want to build a thriving network of attorney referral sources, you must be prepared to go out of your way to generate referrals for them as well. Developing a relationship is a two-way process. It can’t just be you asking your legal peers for referrals when you see them. It requires regular contact, and you showing as much concern for their business as you are asking them to show for yours.
#4: Send a thank you card or gift for every single referral they make. I recently sent a referral to a new Google pay-per-click company I just met here in the Valley. Within a week I had received a thank you note and a box of brownies… and so did my assistant. It was a very nice touch, and made a big impression on me. Since then, I’ve sent them three more referrals. Say ‘thank you’ every single time, regardless of whether you land the client or not.
#5: Do not just rely on other attorneys for referrals. Many of the best referral sources can be outside of the legal industry. For example, if you are a divorce attorney, develop relationships with psychologists and marriage and family counselors. If you are a criminal defense attorney, connect with substance abuse therapists. If you are a real estate attorney, seek to build relationships with commercial real estate brokers. If you are a business attorney, attend networking events filled with CPAs. If you are an estate planning attorney, reach out to financial advisers and planners. Be willing to look outside of your existing network to other non-legal professionals.