The lifeblood of a sustainable law practice is referring relationships. Your work and your income are dependent on others. You might want to think that it’s a solo act, but today, it’s about giving and receiving to keep you on the positive side of realization. Without referring relationships, you are out on the very cold streets — alone.
Most lawyers’ very first work was given to them by their very first mentor. Then their practice area embraced them and fed them more work. If, and only if, the junior associate gained credibility and trust as demonstrated through their professional work, reliability, responsiveness and client-focused ways would they get more work. Otherwise, they died on the vine and probably parted ways with the firm.
We don’t always think that we are receiving work through referrals inside the law firm. Some people see this handing off of work as a right of association or a business decision to increase leverage, only to find out later the hard way that it doesn’t really work that way. If you don’t give good work to your mentors and your practice areas — as well as a good work ethic — they will not give you or refer you any more work. Right from the beginning of your career, you must give to continue to receive.
Sources of work/ referrers: the whole picture
A comprehensive list of sources of work, or your potential referral list, is below. You can be referred work from:
• your own firm’s lawyers;
• existing clients (either more of their own work or their business networks’ work);
• legal professionals external to your firm (law firms, alumni, lawyers, clerks, judges, etc.);
• family and friends;
• community connections (not-for-profits, chambers of commerce, governments, sponsorships);
• client industries (associations, AGMs, conferences, sponsorships, networking events);
• legal communities (law societies, associations, legal networks — private and public, etc.);
• traditional media (television, radio and print); and
• online (paid and unpaid) sources (ads, articles, media interviews, directories, rankings, videos, stories, testimonials, case studies, social media and more).
But what makes you referable?
The critical factors that make you referable are that you are:
• a good lawyer (you do good work and give good advice — professional excellence);
• trusted (reliable, responsive, relatable and won’t poach);
• valued (client and solution-focused; i.e., you’ll get the job figured out and done effectively and efficiently); and
• visible (you can be found online, you are active online, credible and credentialed).
If you are perceived to fall short in any of the above areas, you will be referred less often, if at all.
Really? How much does being visible contribute to motivating referrals?
Your online visibility is an emerging factor in increasing the probability of referrals. Why? My theory is that referring high-priced and high-risk legal work is scary. Making a poor referral becomes a reflection on the referrer. And worse, if it’s the referrer’s own client, they may not only lose face but lose their client, too.
So, being able to point to up-to-date, relevant, online evidence is a higher form of persuasion. In marketing terms, it also covers your butt. And our fast-moving lives and increasing desire for instant gratification is moving more people to fact-check online in lieu of in person.
Studies also show that around half of potential clients use lack of relevant and quality online presence to cross you off their list.
You’ve got a lot of giving to do. Let’s get started
On top of continuing to be a great technical lawyer and providing trusted and valuable service, you need to put effort into your online reputation and become more visible. This visibility helps your referrers find you, know you and link others to you — both online and in person.
Three steps to increasing the probability of referrals are:
1. identifying your highest sources of work/potential referrers;
2. figuring out what they need to help them refer business to you; and
3. becoming more visible for your high-potential referrers and potential clients (an emerging essential of your business development future).
If you consistently build your reputation and your online visibility, you will enjoy the multiplicative effects of your efforts.