I’m not. However, I realize that many lawyers are uncomfortable – actually many people are – asking for referrals.

It gets worse when one suggests that lawyers should ask for testimonials. Both are important for business development however. It’s instant credibility. If a client or former client or even just a contact suggests that someone hire you as their lawyer, it’s like gold in the bank. It means that the person is endorsing your legal abilities, and putting their reputation on the line.

Eric Dewey has written an article on soliciting testimonials. It’s lengthy compared to a post, but you might find it helpful if you have been thinking about asking for testimonials. (Don’t forget to check your bar rules regarding using testimonials.) He covers:

  • the reasons people don’t write testimonials;
  • make your request personal in nature;
  • remind them of the reasons they should;
  • remind them also that testimonials can help others in need;
  • include suggestions to make it easy; and
  • provide a sample of a testimonial (of course, keep it simple and not too verbose).

Back to referrals.  The majority of new business comes from referrals, whether they are from satisfied clients or other contacts.  In excess of 70% of lawyers business comes that way, if not more.  It’s simple really why would a stranger hire someone whom s/he neither knows, likes or trusts.  Whether corporate or personal clients, when all else is considered, will ASK someone who they should hire.

So, why not ask your clients, friends and other people who know you, to recommend you.  For some of my posts on referrals – check out this compilation for tips on when and how to ask for them.  Oh, and don’t forget to ask for testimonials too.


Seventy to 90% of lawyers’ business comes because of referrals from clients and other contacts in your network.  You are more likely to get more, if you concentrate on enhancing your network.

Mary Taylor Lokensgard has a post on Attorney at Work that provides good ideas on getting referrals.  She suggests 3 steps:

1.    Ask for them.

  • From people who know, like and trust you, and vica versa. They will come, if you develop meaningful relationships with people who are likely to be in a position to refer the clients you want;
  • Make sure your contacts know what you do, not just that you are a lawyer;
  • Work up an elevator speech (or two or three) that lets them know that kinds of law you practice and HOW you can help people;
  • Let clients know that you can always handle work from other great clients like them.

2.  Build up your network of contacts who could be referral sources, including:

  • Lawyers who don’t do what you do; or
  • Ones who do not want to represent the clients you do; and
  • Other professionals, such as financial advisors, bankers, real estate agents/brokers, insurance agents, estate planners, etc.

Keep in touch with potential referral sources at least quarterly by telephone, email, lunch and so forth.

3.  How to ask.

  • Build relationships first.  One way to enhance relationships quickly is “giving to get.” Actively think of, and work at, making referrals to contacts in your network;
  • Don’t be bashful, but avoid appearing desperate.  Remember you know your contacts and you’re not asking strangers; and
  • Remember the line about your welcoming the opportunity to service other good clients like them.

Remember to show appreciation for all referrals with a handwritten note – yes, even in these days of easy emails – even if they do not work out.  If they do, then consider sending a small token of your appreciation, such as a bottle of wine, or whatever.  Remember the ethical rules against sharing fees with non-lawyers.

Developing a referral network isn’t easy or a short term project.  It is a never-ending and critical to the success of your law firm.

P.S. Here’s a link to numerous additional posts of mine about referrals over the past 10 years.


Well, that might be an overstatement; but a three-part series by Mary Lokensgard on Attorney at Work presents a good outline of an effective referral system to follow.  If you do so there is a good chance that you will be guaranteed referrals. They are not automatic and they require work, but if you’re serious about getting new business remember that one of the best sources his referrals (either from clients or other friends and contacts).

In a nutshell the suggestions by Lokensgard cover three aspects:

1. Who is likely to refer to and how to ask.

  • Make a list of lawyers who do not do what you do, as well as a list of those who do and are likely to refer to you (and you to them) when there is a conflict or other reason;
  • List other non-lawyer professionals likely to have clients that could use your services (and vice versa);
  • Let your clients know that you welcome referrals to serve “other great clients like them”; and
  • Inform all appropriate contacts of your willingness to refer clients to them.

2. Rules when getting and giving referrals.

  • Suggest to referral source that the potential client, for ethical reasons, make the first contact. Subtly remind referrer if you don’t hear from the person;
  • With the new client’s permission, let the referral source know the referral succeeded;
  • Thank the referral source for the business repeatedly – by email AND handwritten note, and consider a token gift as a thank you; and
  • Let the referral source know how things are going with the matter ONLY with the client’s knowledge and consent.

3. Care and maintenance of your referral network.

  • Continue to broaden referral network by raising profile by educational and nonprofit activities;
  • Stay in constant contact with existing referral sources;
  • Look for opportunities to make referrals;
  • Show appreciation by entertaining referral sources.

Building a referral network takes work, but can pay big dividends if done efficiently and effectively. Check out Lokensgard’s three-part series for more details.



The vast majority of new legal work for lawyers comes from referrals, whether they be from clients, former clients, or other people who, know like and trust you. Often called word-of-mouth marketing, primarily new work comes because of what other people say about you. (One exception obviously is plaintiff’s work, which is basically garnered through advertising).

I have written many posts over this blog’s 10 years on the subject of referrals. And I have included links to 10 below, and invite you to breeze through them for tidbits you might find helpful.

But today I will list, with no further explanation needed IMHO, seven tips I am convinced will guarantee you referrals. So here goes:

  1. Do excellent legal work
  2. Dress professionally
  3. Beat deadlines
  4. Respect clients
  5. Never (unfavorably) surprise a client about anything
  6. Charge reasonable fees
  7. Be a nice person

That’s all folks.


Except for other of my posts on referrals (I apologize in advance for broken links, as some no longer are available):


How often do you forget to say “Thank You?” Personally, I stand guilty of this omission occasionally myself. Okay, okay, I know it’s hard to believe, but it does happen.

Roy Ginsburg had a post on Attorney at Work awhile back where he talks about mistakes made by job seekers’ in failing to thank the relevant people who help them. It got me thinking about the failure of some lawyers to thank clients and others for business referrals.

Ginsburg’s two mistakes include:

  1. Failure to thank your network. As to referrals, my first thought was the story I heard about a New York law firm that admitted that it had received at least 10 referrals from the same contact and had never directly thanked the person involved. Their reasoning went something like this: “he knows we appreciate the referrals.” Does he now!!?  Not only should you thank the person who refers clients to your firm, and send them some token of appreciation (as appropriate or allowed), but you should make just as much of an effort to thank them when the referral doesn’t work out; and
  2. Failure to thank your interviewer. Always thank your prospect or client when given the opportunity to make a pitch for new work. Again, you should thank them for the opportunity to make a proposal whether you win the work or not. Don’t think in terms of only thanking people when things turn how as YOU hope. It’s just as important to let them know you appreciate their thinking about you in the first place.

Ginsburg has a good suggestion on how you should thank people.  He says you should do so both by email and snail mail. As he says, “it is neither overkill nor duplicative to send both,” and I totally agree. Although he doesn’t specifically say so, I’m sure he would agree that the “snailer” version should be a handwritten note versus a letter. The envelope should be hand addressed as well.

Carrying the thought one step further, I strongly recommend thanking others whenever they do anything for you – even after having lunch at your invitation.  There really is no better way to success than to show you appreciate the things people do for you.

One might ask how networking tips for brand new associates would be applicable to partners. Stick with me here, because in my experience there are many partners who know what they should have been doing in terms of staying in touch with former classmates, colleagues, people they’ve met, etc. but haven’t.  So, they could gain from Steven Taylor’s interview of Scott Westfahl, director of professional development at Goodwin Procter recently on Attorney at Work.

As Taylor points out, the old saying “It’s not what you know, but who you know” (1951, G. P. Bush and L. H. Hattery in an article on obtaining federal employment in Science magazine) is not applicable to lawyers, of course.  But don’t downplay the value of who you know, and who you know that can help you get legal work.

It’s what networking is all about. And Taylor’s and Westfahl’s tips can be helpful to any lawyer, since it is not taught as part of the core curriculum in law schools.  So, the networking tips mentioned include:

  • Keep in touch with law school classmates (and with college and high schools ones as well – surprising how that little nerd in junior high turned out to be very successful).  You should reach out and touch your contacts on a quarterly or least semi-annual basis to catch up and stay top of mind.  Don’t wait until you need their help with an introduction;
  • Identify groups of good contacts, and build those newer, external relationships as well;
  • Offer to help them with their goals (based on the idea “give to get”); and
  • Use social media as a tool (but don’t forget that networking is personal, and face-to-face meetings are still important).

New lawyers should not overlook the importance of maintaining and developing networks, just because they are busy learning the skills needed to be a good lawyer.  Nor should partners who have not got as effective a network as they would like, since it is not too late to reconnect with those former classmates and other contacts they have ignored for many years.

After 25-plus years in marketing lawyers, it continues to amaze me that some lawyers do not understand why cross-selling so often doesn’t work.  The thinking seems to go, “I’m good at… (fill in the blank), we’re partners, and they should just refer ‘their’ clients to me so I’ll have more work.”

The question is “why should they?”

The answer as to why they don’t is pretty simple.  They may not know what you really do, or trust your capabilities to not damage their client relationship.  Pretty simple, huh?  Because that is the real world.  There may be more to it, not the least of which may be the client doesn’t want to put more eggs in your firm’s basket, or they like a lawyer in another firm who does the same work, or they get more value from another firm, etc. etc.

My friend Merrilyn Astin Tarlton on Attorney at Work has a post suggesting possible reasons why your partner won’t cross-sell you. The reasons she points out might include the fact that the other lawyer: may not liking your act (behavior with other clients); your ability; it’s might not be best for the client; someone else is better; and just because you are partners doesn’t justify putting the client at risk.

On the bright side, Tarlton offers some sound advice on how you might get your partners to cross-sell you:

  • Educate them.  Let your partners know what you do, the challenges in your field, and share stories about favorable outcomes (without bragging of course);
  • Publicize your wins.  The bigger the firm, the more important it is to let everyone know about your victories via department head meetings, firm newsletter, website, and the like;
  • Hold internal lunch and learn sessions. Cover the two bullets above;
  • Do your client homework.  Learn more about other partners’ clients – that is, about issues relating to their industry, how you could help the client, and make the partner a hero in the process.

Cross-selling can work.  But, it ain’t easy and requires work.  And your partners don’t owe you.  You need to make sure they know, like and trust you.  Gosh, that sounds like what it takes for any client to hire you in the first place.

Most lawyers understand the referral adage "give to get." It’s pretty simple really. If you refer potential business to others, most will refer work in return, if for no other reason than they’ll feel an obligation to do so. Not everyone does, but most will.

Unfortunately, many of us are regularly guilty of not proactively seeking opportunities to refer clients/customers to others. Often times it’s because we don’t listen to the needs of people we encounter, and thus don’t uncover opportunities to make referrals. Stephen Seckler tells just such a story on his CounseltoCounsel blog   involving a lawyer and a financial planner. The story goes that the financial planner found that when it comes to referrals “lawyers are the worst.” Seckler was sure the planner was wrong, so he stopped an estate planning lawyer he knew and asked him about that. The lawyer’s response was that he didn’t have opportunities to make such referrals because, as Seckler reports, “his T&E clients never ask for a referral to a financial planner.” And, it seems pretty obvious that he never asked them either.

I am sure that is not always the case, and I know of estate planning lawyers who do work on referrals from brokers and financial planners. However, the point is a good one, as I’m also sure that a number of lawyers do not proactively looking for opportunities to make outgoing referrals.

Seckler’s example points out why lawyers should talk with, and listen intently to, their clients and others to uncover needs beyond pure legal representation. But, this would require proactive listening in order to learn about the needs of others. That way you could give more referrals, and increase your chances of getting more in return.

There could be a number of reasons that clients might bad mouth your firm. As the saying goes, an unhappy client/customer will tell up to 10 people how dissatisfied they are with a product or service. For a lawyer, that can be the kiss of death, since anywhere from 71% to 80% of new matters come from referrals. The reasons may have nothing to do with the ultimate outcome of their legal matter.

In a recent blog post Jamie Field points out the need for creating realistic expectations to avoid negative word-of-mouth damage from clients. Her suggestions include better communication (asking the client by what manner, how often, and when they would like communication during their matter); what the lawyer will realistically do for the client; and what outcome options – “both good and bad” – can be expected.

Actually, there are more concerns to be considered in order to avoid unhappy clients, who may “bad mouth” you or the firm. They include:

  • Amount of the fee, irrespective of the result;
  • How they were treated by the lawyer and staff;
  • Whether there were any unpleasant surprises of any kind;
  • Failure to keep client informed of the status of their matter; and
  • Shown a lack of respect as a person.

It is the lawyer’s fault if a client has unrealistic expectations, or is treated poorly. Accordingly, it is critical to have a meaningful discussion upfront as to what the scope and objectives of the representation will be, as well as what they can realistically expect. That includes not only the possible outcomes, but how they will be treated, and what the matter is likely to cost. In today’s world that is increasingly important in managing a legal project. It also can help avoid bad mouthing by disgruntled clients.

Getting referrals from happy clients – better still raving fans – is a much more effective business development strategy.

Usually, I don’t post about articles that are only available by subscription, since most readers are not going to sign up and pay to see the article. However, a recent one on LawyersUSA Online gave some pretty simple steps to increase referrals, and I thought they were worth mentioning.

The five pretty basic tips include:

  1. Ask for referrals. At the conclusion of a matter, according to Ross Fishman, ask your client if they know of others that could use your help, as they may know of someone who may be in need or otherwise unhappy with their current lawyer;
  2. Identify top clients or contacts that may be “centers of influence” (or as I mentioned in a 2005 post are “Super-Connectors”). They are likely in a position to know what the needs of others in their organization or community are. Plan to reach out and contact them at least quarterly suggests Susan Van Dyke;
  3. Send information of interest. Although the article suggests sending weekly or monthly eNewsletters, I’m not a big fan of emails since we are inundated with so much email, and much is spam. If you have, however, provide a quick opt-out process, I’m less critical, but still prefer law alerts with selected articles relevant to your audience;
  4. Attend “several events each week, if possible.” Networking and meeting contacts face-to-face at events, that are likely to include clients or people who could referral potential clients, is still one of the best ways to develop business; and
  5. Provide free work to people who can be referral sources. The example in the article tells about an estate planning lawyer who provided a free will to a financial advisor, who in turn has provided “a steady flow of work to him.”

Simple, but effective tips.