How to Guide: Developing an Attorney-to-Attorney Case Referral Network

May 11, 2017

Pretty much every lawyer at some point in their career has received a call on a case that they have had to refer out.  

Marketing savvy attorneys incorporate early into their business development plan the creation of a reciprocal list of lawyers that they can refer cases out to before a call like this comes in.

One of the most passive ways that a lawyer, of any level, can augment their law practice is through an "attorney-to-attorney business referral network." This network can be described as an informal group of trusted lawyers that becomes your go-to when you receive a call for a potential case that you cannot handle. This can be an individual attorney effort or an effort supported by an entire small law firm.

Here are some basic considerations to help you jump start your attorney-to-attorney case referral network strategy:

Are You the Only Lawyer that People Know?

For many lawyers, they are the first call from their non-attorney network (family, friends, as well as friends of family and friends) when someone has a legal question or a legal problem of any shape or size. Oftentimes you are the only lawyer that people know or maybe the only attorney that they feel comfortable enough with to reach out to for legal advice.

These inquiries from your non-attorney network lead to business lawyers receiving calls from people needing trust and estates lawyers. Or family law attorneys being asked to "look into" a friend's criminal ticket. Even if you are a generalist, it is not possible to practice every single type of law so chances are there will be times during your career when you receive a call like this and will have to refer a case out to another attorney or law firm.

Common Practice Areas

Here are the most common practice areas that people from in your network will more than likely need attorneys for:

  • Corporate and General Business Law (especially business formation)
  • Labor & Employment
  • Intellectual Property
  • Litigation (including civil litigation, commercial litigation, and business litigation)
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution (including mediation, arbitration)
  • Criminal (including misdemeanors, felonies, DUI, white-collar)
  • Bankruptcy (personal and corporate)
  • Immigration (families and corporate)
  • Family Law (including divorce, post-decree, adoptions)
  • Insurance Law (plaintiff and defense)
  • Personal Injury (plaintiff and defense)
  • Trusts & Estates
  • Real Estate

Use this list of common practice areas as a guide in developing your attorney-to-attorney case referral network. Take some time to reflect on one or two local lawyers in each area of law listed above that you would feel comfortable referring a case to.

Why Should You Refer a Case Out?

Some of the reasons that lawyers need to refer cases out can include that a potential case is outside of their firm's practice areas, outside of their firm's practice location, conflicts, or the case is too large (or even too small) for them. Attorney-to-attorney case referral networks come in handy when these calls come in.  They can be great business development tools for small law firms and solo practitioners to create multiple pipelines of lead sources within the legal industry.

Who Should be in Your Attorney-to-Attorney Case Referral Network?

The number and type of lawyers that you have in your referral network is completely up to you. Many practitioners refer out cases to people that they went to law school with as they have the same amount of experience in their respective practice area. Others have a referral relationship with attorneys of similar sized firms and an example would be the attorneys of an immigration law firm referring calls for business formation to a local full-service business law firm. You can also keep the names of opposing or co-counsel that you enjoyed working with in the past and add them to this list in the event of conflicts within your firm. Another thought would be to create referral relationships within your geographic area, and also, outside of your geographic area. Bar Associations, especially specialty bar associations, are another great place to connect with lawyers for your referral network.

What to Consider Before Referring a Case Out.

The biggest item to consider is that you are essentially giving your professional recommendation to another business. When doing this, make sure that you know the level of experience that the attorneys in your referral network have. You should also consider what type of client experience they provide (i.e. do they return calls, do they have a modern practice, are they bilingual, if that matters). The pricing of legal services, or billable hour rate, is another area that should cross your mind as your small business client referral might not appreciate being referred to a $600 an hour lawyer from an international law firm to draft a simple contract. You should also consider the lawyer's case results and even representative clients to determine if they are a good fit for your referral network.

How to Build Your Network.

Many lawyers allow their referral network to form organically by keeping business cards and v-cards of lawyers that they plan to refer business to in the future. Others are more deliberate about it, and take lawyers from other practice areas out to coffee or lunch to find out what they do and how they do it before adding them to their referral list.

My recommendation would be that you have, at a minimum, a conversation with the people on your attorney-to-attorney case referral list to confirm that they are interested in making the relationship reciprocal whenever possible. I would reiterate to the people on your referral list what cases you are looking for, what your practice areas are, what your client experience is, etc. Transparency and communication are key components in making these reciprocal business development relationships long-lasting.

Need more help? Email me. I have recommendations for great Colorado lawyers in each of the practice areas of above.

Meranda Vieyra is the owner of Denver Legal Marketing LLC.

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