Originally published on Feb. 20, 2017; updated on Sept. 26, 2019.
A strong referral base is only built over a period of time and is based on cultivating great relationships with referral sources. Developing those relationships is a two-way street, especially when it comes to building a referral network of other, noncompeting attorneys.
Achieving this goal is impossible if you are only 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.
Here are my 8 simple steps attorneys can use to create a referral network of other attorneys:
Step 1: Identify your best possible referral sources. These will be other attorneys you either don’t compete with or those who may also practice your type of law but could potentially refer their overflow to you. Keep in mind that you want to choose those that have the best connection with your ideal client.
Step 2: Create a database of 100-200 contacts in your local area. This should include every attorney who has ever referred someone to you as well as your identified best possible referral sources (research potential sources on Avvo.com and your local or state bar association websites).
Step 3: Write up a letter of introduction to serve as a template. Here’s an example of a letter you would send to a noncompeting attorney:
REFERRAL LETTER TO NONCOMPETING ATTORNEY
My name is __________of the law firm _____________ in (city, state).
I’m writing to see if you would be interested in getting together with me to learn about each other’s services and respective target markets. It is my hope that such a meeting can lead to the creation of a referral relationship that would benefit both of our firms.
We have been in business since ______, and we focus our practice on (your area of practice). We are constantly looking to expand our network of professional advisors in the local area, from whom we can identify potential referrals for our clients.
For more information about our firm, we invite you to visit our website at: ________________
In the next week, you’ll receive a call from my assistant to see if you are interested in getting together in person.
I look forward to meeting you soon, face-to-face.
Step 4: Have your assistant mail out 10-20 letters per week. Do not send a bunch of letters at once — pace yourself.
Step 5: For each letter you send out, plan on having your assistant make 3-4 calls to try and reach the person you sent the letter to. The purpose of your call is two-fold: to see if they are interested in getting together and to set an appointment if they are. This is not a direct solicitation or a sales pitch – it is simply a follow-up call to see if they are interested in meeting with you face-to-face.
Prepare a simple phone script for your assistant that includes this information:
- How long you’ve been in business
- Your ideal client
- Your office location(s)
- Your primary practice area
- Your website URL
- How you found the potential referral source (they’ll ask)
Be sure your assistant asks a few questions of your potential referral source:
- Who is your ideal client? What kind of client do you enjoy working with the most?
- Do you currently have a (your practice area) attorney you refer cases/clients to?
- Are you open to discussing developing a referral relationship with our law firm if there’s a good connection?
- Do you seek to make referrals to other non-competing professionals?
- How many clients do you serve in a typical year?
- Where is your office located?
If they are interested, have your assistant schedule a lunch meeting. Another option is to set up a brief meeting at first just to see if there’s a good connection. Offer to meet them at their office for 30 minutes (lower risk and very convenient for them). The first meeting or two needs to be face-to-face in order to establish rapport and build the relationship.
If they are not interested, tell them, “No problem. I’m sorry to have bothered you. We will immediately remove you from our list of referral sources.”
Here’s the truth…they will WELCOME the call! We have made thousands of follow-up calls for our clients and scheduled hundreds of face-to-face meetings for them and only a handful has said ‘No.’ Remember—this is NOT a sales pitch—it’s just lunch!
Your assistant will need to call each contact 3-4 times just to get through. Don’t get discouraged!
Step 6: The goal is to set 3 to 6 face-to-face meetings per month. At the face-to-face meeting, you want to spend 80% of the time getting to know them and their practice to determine if it’s a good fit.
Ask LOTS of questions:
- How did you first get started in _____?
- What do you like best/least about your work?
- What’s the biggest challenge you are facing?
- How do you find most of your clients?
- What does your typical client look like?
And the most important referral question of all: How would I know if someone would be a great referral for you?
Step 7: Invite them to a second meeting if the first meeting goes well. If your initial meeting goes well, immediately invite them to a second one where you can go into more detail about your practice area and how the two of you could start cross-referring some business.
Remember—you cannot promise them referrals, you cannot guarantee referrals nor can you pay them a referral fee! Most of them don’t want a referral fee and their professional code of ethics doesn’t allow it either.
Exception: Some state bar associations allow for the payment of a referral fee to another attorney under specific circumstances. Please verify with your state bar prior to giving any referral fees.
Step 8: Follow up! When it comes to getting more referrals from other attorneys, the fortune is in the follow-up! Here are some tips:
- Send an email immediately after you meet with them. Send the same day when possible.
- Send a handwritten thank you card or form letter about 2-3 days after your initial meeting.
- After your meeting put a “to do” or task item on your calendar for approximately 6-8 weeks after your initial meeting.
- Set up “lunch and learns” where several professionals informally get together over lunch to exchange leads, discuss business, and encourage each other.
- Make your next meeting more about the relationship than business. Meet at the golf course, over drinks or at a casual place.
- Send them a copy of your published articles.
- Create and send out a separate monthly newsletter just for Referral Sources
- Use social media to stay connected – invite them to connect to you on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
At the Rainmaker Institute, we have taught this easy step-by-step system to thousands of attorneys and they have used this exact process to quickly build networks of 50-60 new referral sources in 90 days.
Imagine what would happen to your law practice if you could have 20, 40, or even 60 new referral sources every single year that consistently send you new clients. You can make it happen if you create a referral system that delivers real – not random – results.
Here’s more on building your referral network:
Beyond building a referral network of attorneys, you also need to have a standardized referral process for clients. Learn how to do that by reading a recent post on my other blog: 8 Steps to Build a Referral Program for Your Law Firm.