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The Ins and Outs of Attorney Client Referrals

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on October 15, 2014 9:28 AM

Part of the reason you're doing all the networking we keep harping about is so that you can get referrals from other lawyers. Like your friend the tax attorney who knows a guy who knows a guy who needs a personal injury attorney -- like you.

New lawyers especially might not know how to navigate referrals, so we've provided this handy guide so that you know how to take advantage of referrals -- and do it without violating any laws.

Under What Conditions Can You Get Referrals?

Time for the ethics lesson. ABA Model Rule 7.2 governs referrals and it prohibits lawyers from paying others for referrals. (This doesn't apply to advertising costs, paying for participation in a qualified lawyer referral service, or selling a law practice.) It does, however, allow for reciprocal referral agreements as long as those agreements aren't exclusive and the client knows about them.

So yes, you can accept referrals from anybody, really, as long as you're not paying for them (again, your state may actually allow charging for referrals. And if this referral involves fee sharing, I refer you to ABA Model Rule 1.5(e)).

Note that some attorneys try to work around referrals by claiming both the referrer and the referee are co-counsels. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn't (depending on your state; some states require attorneys to split fees in proportion to the amount of work they do).

Where Do You Get Referrals?

From other attorneys, obvee! That's why you're going to all of these networking events. It's useful to maintain a Rolodex (what's that?) of attorneys in the area to whom you can refer, and from whom you can receive referrals. Generally, referrals come in unsolicited, so the best way to be on the receiving end of referrals is to have a reputation for being a good lawyer. If you go looking for referrals, it's best to go to someone you know rather than cold-calling, because cold-callers will be more hesitant to hand over cases to people they don't know.

Building a diverse network of different kinds of professionals is also essential to getting good referrals. Accountants, insurance brokers, financial planners, and the like all have clients of their own who have the ability to pay (that's step No. 1) and who may need legal help that can be found in your wheelhouse.

How Do You Refer a Client to Someone Else?

If someone comes into your office with a problem that's not within your area of practice, you don't have time, or you just don't want this client, how do you send the client to someone else? Same deal: know good lawyers, either from the many cocktail parties you go to, law school, or somewhere else. As with declining any representation, politely explain why and tell the person to check out this other lawyer you know.

Remember to build up your network, because you never know when the phone call will come with a new client opportunity.

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