Components of Law Firm Business Development Success: Referral Sources


As discussed in last week’s blog post “Components of Law Firm Business Development Success: Clients,” true biz dev starts with maintaining what you’ve already built. Lawyers and staff alike must make consistent and concerted efforts to maintain the law firm’s referral sources as well as its clients.

Finding new referral sources is something that can be rather easily integrated into the lives of most extroverted people – just start talking to strangers, the nice ones. If you meet someone at the car wash, in an exercise class, at a play-date for your child, at church, really anywhere, be sure to not only make a personal connection, but also a professional one. Most people will ask you what you do for a living anyway, so make it count by having your business card and elevator pitch at the ready.

While scouring the city for new sources of business may be your forte, keeping in touch with all of the contacts you make can prove to be a daunting task. Many smaller law firms are ill equipped to maintain relationships with more than a handful of referral sources, largely because they have no systems in place and very limited manpower. You can make your small firm have a big reach with the automation and systemization of select referral attorney communications.


Often people just need a reminder that you’re open for business. You could be losing out on referrals because other lawyers don’t understand or even know what it is that you do. Too often, lawyers miss out on referral business because they are too afraid to ask for it.

But there are so many lawyers and other professional folks out there, how does one know where to begin? Start with attorneys who are not direct competitors. Look for lawyers with high volume practice areas like pharmaceutical mass torts, consumer bankruptcy, social security disability, and small car accidents, as they are statistically more likely to come across other case types because they reach out to and communicate with such a large audience.

For the non-attorney referral source sector, look for connections to other professionals who are in position to interact with your potential client base; for personal injury lawyers, this can be a medical professional.

What business development strategies will your law firm use to find new referral sources? 

  1. “BYOL” – bring your own list to your law firm! Call, e-mail, or otherwise reach out to a different colleague or friend each week.
  2. Never eat lunch alone
  3. Make introductions between others
  4. Create, maintain, and utilize a dedicated website page for referrals, joint ventures, co-counsel, local counsel arrangements.
  5. Keep track of which firms are marketing for which case types so that you can follow up with them regarding potential synergy.
  6. Use your good manners, and write thank you notes, not just e-mails.
  7. Attend networking events with potential referral sources, not just your competitors. Ask the host if you can be a greeter, work at sign-in, or help in some other way that allows you to interact with the largest number of attendees.
  8. Keep in touch with your law school classmates.
  9. Serve on a volunteer board for a community organization to meet professionals outside of the legal industry.


All law firms should focus first on the referral sources it already has, which are a known commodity. In a previous presentation for the Kentucky Association for Justice, I discussed Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and The Law Firm. With regard to a business-to-business marketing, your B2B CRM cycle, you start by asking when exactly are lawyers the clients of your law firm? Lawyers are not only one of your best sources for new business, but they will also be your local counsel, co-counsel, joint venture partners, on the steering committees for consolidated litigation you are involved with, and more.

In these situations and others, your law firm will remain in touch with the other lawyer or law firm during the pendency of litigation; but, what about after your work is done? How can you be sure that these lawyers (1) have a good experience working with your firm and (2) stay in touch and continue working together after the current matter concludes?

Referral Lawyer Best Practices:

  1. If your firm has intake screening criteria, contracts, or other forms, share them.
  2. Your staff can make it simple for other law firms to send you cases if the necessary documents merge in the law firm name with yours so that it is easy for them to sign up mutual clients.
  3. Provide standardized reporting on a monthly or quarterly basis. Communicate regularly concerning case status.
  4. Host events to thank your best referral sources and to remain top of mind with regard to future business.
  5. Who at your firm handles/communicates with your referring attorneys (RAs)? Relieve handling attorneys (litigators) of spending significant time dealing with minor RA questions and issues.
  6. Keep your best referral sources on a “Hot List” for new projects.
  7. Stay in touch – note who should be included in Quarterly RA Marketing Events.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share with friends