I don’t know any lawyers who aren’t open to getting more referrals for work, but I do know a lot of lawyers who haven’t yet scratched the surface of creating a more robust referral process and referral network. In fact, so many lawyers don’t spend time creating a strategy for building, maintaining and growing their referral pipeline, and they should.

Building a referral network is essential for lawyers to expand their client base, grow their practice and obtain new professional development opportunities. Getting more referrals doesn’t have to be complicated – it’s all about doing great work, cutivating relationships and being visible.

Here are some effective strategies that lawyers can employ to build a strong referral network:

  1. Cultivate Relationships with Other Professionals: Connect with professionals who work with individuals or businesses that may require legal services. This includes accountants, financial advisors, professionals in real estate, finance, human resources and lawyers specializing in different practice areas and jurisdictions. Attend industry events, join professional associations and engage in networking activities to establish relationships with these professionals. Regularly communicate and collaborate with them to understand their clients’ legal needs and provide referrals when appropriate. Ensure you have their updated contact information in your CRM system (make sure you have a CRM!).
  2. Provide Outstanding Service: Offer exceptional service to existing clients to increase the likelihood of receiving referrals. Strive for excellence in every aspect of your legal practice, including client communication, case handling and courtroom representation. Satisfied clients are more likely to refer their friends, family or colleagues to a lawyer who has demonstrated competence and professionalism.
  3. Maintain an Online Presence: Establish a strong online presence through regularly updating your website bio and having an active and complete LinkedIn profile. You may want to consider other social media platforms as well if it makes sense to showcase your practice. Optimize your online content to showcase your expertise and share valuable legal information. Engage with your audience by providing insights and sharing relevant news or articles. This visibility will help potential clients and other professionals discover and think of you when they require legal services or need to refer someone.
  4. Participate in Legal and Community Events: Attend conferences, seminars and workshops related to your practice area. These events provide opportunities to connect with other legal professionals, gain knowledge and build your reputation. Actively participate in panel discussions, give presentations or write articles for industry publications to enhance your visibility and demonstrate your expertise.
  5. Join and Contribute to Legal Associations: Become a member of local, regional and national bar associations or legal organizations relevant to your practice area. Engage in committees, volunteer for leadership roles and actively participate in events and initiatives. These associations offer networking opportunities and help lawyers facilitate and build relationships with other lawyers, which can increase referral opportunities.
  6. Let People Know What You Do: Get in the practice of letting people in your day-to-day life know what you do. Do the people with whom you regularly interact know you’re a lawyer? Do they know in which practice area you specialize? Can they easily describe what you do and for whom you do it to others? They should, because if they don’t know, they can’t refer you to others.
  7. Reconnect with Former Classmates and Colleagues: One of the best ways to get referrals is to stay in touch and/or reconnect with your former colleagues and classmates. Don’t underestimate the power of these relationships, especially when you’ve shared so many experiences in your formative years together.
  8. Ask Other Lawyers for Referrals: Lawyers at other firms who don’t do what you do but are in  a practice area that complements—but doesn’t compete with—yours can be a great source of referrals. For example, if you work in construction law, you could ask a family law attorney for referrals. That lawyer benefits by knowing that they can refer people to someone they know does good work but isn’t trying to “steal” their clients, and vice versa. Also, cultivate relationships with firms of all sizes. The big firm/small firm pipeline is a great referral source for lawyers. There will be matters that are too small or not high-enough value enough for a big firm – make sure you are the lawyer who is top of mind with your contact.
  9. Build a Pipeline with Lawyers Who Have Complimentary Practices: Align yourself with lawyers who work in areas that can generate work for you – so for example, an IP lawyer handling an IPO for an entrepreneur may be asked by their client for a recommendation for a corporate lawyer to handle another matter or an estate planning attorney. You can build a reciprocal referral relationship with each other, which can lead to more matters for both of you. Also, get to know others in your practice area who have a different focus to determine whether there might be an opportunity for referrals.
  10. Offer Referrals to Others: Building a referral network is a two-way street. When you encounter clients or cases that fall outside your area of expertise, refer them to trusted colleagues who specialize in those areas. By referring clients to other lawyers, you demonstrate professionalism and create reciprocity, increasing the likelihood of receiving referrals in return.
  11. Track Referrals. Just as important as cultivating your referral network is actually implementing a system to track them as well as to notify internal stakeholders about new referral matters. You can track referrals via a variety of ways such as via a shared spreadsheet or by using software. Ensure regular reports are sent internally to firm leadership with referral information.
  12. Collaborate on Marketing. One of the ways I’ve seen lawyers be successful in building their referrals is by collaborating on marketing and business development efforts with their referral partners. Some ideas include co-writing articles/blog posts (make sure to link each other in your web copy to help boost SEO), co-presenting webinars, speaking together on panels at conferences and also on podcasts, resharing each other’s content on LinkedIn. This can help increase your visibility with each of your networks and spotlight your educational content.  This builds trust with potential clients, provides your contacts with content to share with their contacts, helps grow your professional network and expand your collective reach.
  13. Do Something Good. Consider co-hosting/co-sponsoring pro bono, charity and community service initiatives with your referral sources, which demonstrates that you are a good corporate citizen who cares about the community. Bonus – all of these are great ways to meet potential clients and referral sources.
  14. Follow up and Express Gratitude: When you receive a referral, always thank the referrer regardless of whether the lead turns into an actual matter. Keep them informed about the progress of the referred case, respecting client confidentiality. Expressing gratitude for the referral/introduction reinforces the relationship and encourages further referrals in the future.

Building a strong referral network takes time and effort. Consistency, reciprocity and a commitment to excellent service are instrumental in creating a robust referral system. The most effective way to build and maintain your referral network is to cultivate and build strong relationships with other lawyers and business professionals. Host events for your referral sources, take them to dinner or a sporting event, send them a thank you gift, provide value through helpful content.

You want to be top of mind when they have a matter for someone with your expertise, so remember to not only do great work, but also be visible in your industry, show gratitude and referral reciprocity to anyone who refers work to you.

Now which of these tips are you going to implement?

Reach out to me for help creating your marketing or firm strategy.

Stefanie Marrone advises law firms of all sizes, professional service firms, B2B companies, recruiters and individuals on the full range of marketing and business development consulting services designed to enhance revenue, retain current clients and achieve greater brand recognition. She also serves as outsourced chief marketing officer/marketing department for small and mid-size law firms.

Over her 20+-year legal marketing career, she has worked at and with a broad range of big law, mid-size and small firms, which has given her a valuable perspective of the legal industry. Connect on LinkedInTwitterYouTubeInstagramsign up for her email list and follow her latest writing on JD Supra.