Client referrals: Where do they come from? How do you get them? And the all-elusive attorney referrals

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  • | 12:00 p.m. November 26, 2012
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As a nine-year veteran in the practice of law, I do not have all the answers to client referrals, but I do have the experience of having practiced, much to my chagrin, at all levels of the industry.

I initially worked at an international law firm in Atlanta, practiced at large and mid-size firms in Florida, worked as in-house counsel for a day-cruise ship and a non-profit and then opened up my solo litigation practice almost four years ago.

At each level I have collected valuable experience on how to build a thriving and — wait for it — referral-only law practice.

Nowadays it is almost unheard of in any industry not to market, especially if you started your business in the computer age.

As the only law firm, probably in existence, without a Web page, the following advice is not for the weary, the lazy, or the get-it done quick practitioner.

To build a referral-only practice — or "relationship building" as I like to call it — takes patience, dedication, responsiveness and, most importantly, helping others first.

Where do your clients first find out about you?

Chances are it was one of the following: they were referred to you; they saw an article you wrote or heard you speak; they met you at a networking event; they saw your ad; they saw an article about you or saw you on the news; or they found your website via a search engine.

Whatever brought you clients in the past is probably something you should continue to do in the future — and to do it more often and better.

But no matter what marketing strategies you use or don't use — which I find is a marketing strategy itself — the cornerstone of your marketing efforts should be based on receiving more referrals.

How you do that is the cornerstone of any practice.

For clients, the simplest strategy is simply to stay in touch. Clients who don't have anyone to refer to you today may have referrals tomorrow.

Your objective is to be in their minds when that happens.

The more complex strategy is to always keep in mind that the client you have today is your marketing source tomorrow.

Treat them as the marketing jewels they are, meaning with respect, dedication, forthrightness and responsiveness, all while keeping their costs and fees as low as humanly possible.

The greater your ability to juxtapose the bias most clients already have about attorneys, the more goodwill you bring to relationship building.

For the all-elusive attorney referrals, they won't refer to you if you merely let them know what you do.

You may receive some referrals that way, but your best sources likely are to come only after you have built relationships.

Building those relationships doesn't necessarily depend on your ability to refer them business. It depends on the same goodwill you would extend to your clients.

Treat other attorneys — yes even, or especially, adversaries — with respect, dedication, forthrightness, and responsiveness. The best client referral I ever received was from an opposing counsel who, in the midst of litigation, referred a client to me since she was about to be on maternity leave. There is no better accomplishment in my book.

For my dime, referred clients are the best clients.

As a general rule, they come to you pre-sold. You don't have to convince them to hire you, to pay what you ask or to follow your advice.

Referred clients tend to be better clients, too. They are less likely to complain and more likely to come back to you again and again. And, because they were referred, they are far more likely to refer other clients to you.

Attorneys who receive a lot of referrals tend to have the most profitable — and enjoyable — practices.

Relationship building as referral-based marketing means helping others first, without demanding or expecting anything in return. It means putting aside what you want for now and help others first.