Updated: Jan 20, 2022
Referrals are the lifeblood of a healthy practice. In fact, 85% of the work that comes to the top-performing lawyers came through referrals - from inside the firm, at first, and increasingly from outside the firm as you get better at connecting with others.
Referrals are powerful. They include an implied endorsement of you that makes getting the engagement much easier. And yet, most of us find it difficult to ask for help. We hesitate to ask for an introduction or ask to be referred for work for any number of reasons - many of them wrong. Business professionals expect and even enjoy connecting and introducing others. Most business professionals and lawyers willingly give referrals when the work has been good or the person has a good reputation or personal connection.
First Things First: You must earn and be worthy of referrals. That means keep doing all the things you do already to be a good lawyer. Continue to be trustworthy, authentic in your dealings with others, accessible, and be an expert in an area of the law.
Plant the Seed: Mention in your conversations that referrals and introductions are important to your business- it’s how you gain new clients. Stop short of directly asking them to give you a referral, though. That’s where it begins to feel odd or needy for most people. And a direct ask is typically not needed. Most business people will get the hint. When someone asks, 'how is work?' or 'how is your practice going?', reply 'It's going great. I seem to be getting more and more work through referrals and people recommending me'.
Try a Social Referral: If you are uncomfortable suggesting referrals for work, try asking for referrals to people who have similar interests and hobbies as you. Mention that you are looking to meet more people who enjoy your hobby and ask that they refer anyone they know who enjoys the same activities. Surprisingly, this helps ‘condition’ the other person to think about you for referrals and often leads to referrals for work.
Help Others First: The best way to get referrals is by giving them. But like the people you ask to refer work to you, you may not know of someone with your particular legal needs at the moment. If you can’t make a referral for work, you may be able to help them in other ways. The point is to ‘always be giving’. The combination of giving unselfishly combined with a mention that referrals are the best way to get work will lead to an uptick in referral activity over time.
Fish Where the Fish Chill: Identify people who could potentially send you work by referral (or might know people) and make a list of them. Reach out to them on a regular basis. Identify the types of people they would most like to meet, search your contacts and offer to introduce them. Referral activity tends to be concentrated among people with similar or related challenges, the people who serve those with similar or related challenges and tend to be constrained to those who have close or familiar relationships.
Don’t Expect an Immediate Referral: For a variety of reasons, referral activity takes time to develop. Most professionals won’t refer simply for the sake of referring. They want to send good quality opportunities your way. Those don’t come up every day. The challenge of referrals is to be on the mind of the person when they find a good referral opportunity. To increase your referral activity, mention the importance of referrals in every conversation, do good work, find ways to help others, and refer work to others on a regular basis. Be sure to identify and talk to the people in a position to refer work. Do this consistently and you’ll see your referral activity increase over time.
Don’t Keep Score: The expectation of referral reciprocity is a dangerous, corrosive mindset. Keeping a mental score of who gives you referrals and who hasn’t, serves little purpose and will often be counterproductive. There are simply too many variables to give it any thought. Focus on being the person who helps others and a connector and influencer.
Referrals are all about timing: Ask too early in the engagement (or relationship) and you run the risk of being perceived as assertive. Ask too late, and they may forget why it was that they choose you. In every engagement, there is a honeymoon phase when both parties feel good about the relationship. Late in the honeymoon phase is the best time to ask for referrals or testimonials. Look for opportunities to suggest a referral after positive results or experiences.
How to say it:
There are many ways to ask for a referral. It’s important to find a way to phrase the request in a way that works best for you and feels natural. A simple mention of the importance of getting referrals (a soft ask) can be an easy way to get comfortable with asking for referrals. Direct asks can be hard at first, usually because most of us underestimate the client’s perception of our work or have lingering doubts about how the client feels about us. But the sooner you get comfortable asking for referrals, the more likely you are to get them.
Practice these ‘asks’ with someone else and get their feedback on how you come across.
“Referrals are the biggest source of my work. As someone familiar with my work, I hope you’ll think of me if you come across anyone needing help with [service area].”
“If you know of anyone needing help with [legal service], I hope you’ll think of me.”
“It’s hard for me to ask, but I’m going to. If you hear of any company with [legal problem], I would appreciate it if you introduced us.”
“I love meeting other professionals interested in [topic of common interest]. If you come across anyone, I hope you’ll think to mention my name.”
Difficult things become easier with practice. The more you make and ask for referrals, the easier it becomes and the more it becomes part of your regular business development strategy. Few things pay off as well as the regular giving and asking for referrals.