What is it about lawyers, and new lawyers in particular?
Attorneys have to be some of the most gregarious people in the world, yet they appear to do almost anything other than get out, get to know, and build relationships with those that will refer them business.
When people ask me if there is a lot of competition in the practice of law, I tell them no. Sure there are a lot of attorneys, but only a few percent do what is necessary to build a thriving practice. The overwhelming majority of those who read this post will not do it, or will make half-hearted attempts to do so. For example, organizations and associations have a lot of attorney members, but they have few attorneys that routinely participate in these organizations and associations.
Lawyers would rather buy expensive advertising, or go to work for a firm with the hope of hiding in an office, than gain the experiences necessary to build a comfortable and knowledgeable law practice.
The easiest way to find a profitable law job?
Go out and meet attorneys.
The easiest way to find a clients?
Go out and meet the people, groups, organizations and associations that can bring you both a better understanding of your client base and which canrefer these clients to you on a routine basis.
Yet, I get calls and emails every day from lawyers and law students that ask how to build a practice. I tell them to build relationships. Then I feel the thud of disappointment on the other side.
What is the deal?
This said, there are three typical ways you build referrals.
The first concerns itself with incentive based referrals. These referrals are based on an incentive. The best way to think of this is in terms of either advertising or bribes. We will not talk about bribes because we all know that you cannot share fees or pay non-lawyers for referrals. Right? So, this leaves paid advertising, which is allowed. The two disadvantages of bribes (or whatever you want to call them) are (1) disbarment, and possibly (2) jail time. The two disadvantages of advertising are (1) it is expensive, and (2) when the advertising stops so do the referrals.
The second concerns itself with exchange based referrals. This is where you agree to exchange clients with other professionals. As long as you are exchanging types of cases with other lawyers, there is nothing wrong with this. One lawyer represents family law clients, and the other represents bankruptcy clients. The family lawyer agrees to send his bankruptcy cases to the bankruptcy lawyer, and the bankruptcy lawyer agrees to send her family law cases to the family lawyer. The problem is that in real life this depends on quid pro quo, and much too often the quid does not quo. In other words, in reality it is hard to find equality in these relationships such as to sustain them long term.
The third concerns itself with relationship based referrals. These are the best because they are not necessarily illegal, they do not cost a bunch of money, and they do not depend on a quid pro quo. This is developing a series of relationships that are help based and not money based. It concerns only the process of making yourself known, liked and remembered to the people, groups, organizations and associations that routinely encounter your referral base. So, for example, if you wish to represent lending institutions, you need to become known, liked and remembered by bankers, mortgage lenders and the like.
Sure it takes time to establish these sources, but if you make an effort to meet a few people each week, and make that routine, all you need to do is just stay in touch thereafter. It is possibly a slower process than advertising, bribing, quid-ing and quo-ing, but it is a more sustainable practice. And, it is an easier practice. Potential clients that come to you through other means are terribly skeptical and cautious. But, those referred based upon relationships are referred with enthusiasm. This shortens the selling cycle. In short, it is not hard to convince them of what they need to do to solve their problems. You ultimately have a better retain rate. And, of course the practice is viral. These referral sources refer you to other referral sources over time.