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Guest Post: Kick-Start Your Practice: Join a Lawyer Referral Service

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This post represents the second, and final, guest appearance by LOMAP summer intern, Michael Pirrello. Mike is done carrying this program, and has returned to school as of this past Monday. Mike begins his third year at Suffolk University Law School, and is ready (and well-prepared, incidentally) to move onto bigger and better things. We have very much enjoyed having Mike here this summer, and appreciate all his help. We wish him the best of luck in all of his future endeavors. And, now, for his final gift to you, Mike writes on Lawyer Referral Services:

Over the past few months here at LOMAP, I have had the privilege of meeting with a number of solo attorneys and small firm lawyers. These meetings have given me a better understanding of the amount of work that goes into running a law practice. Solo and small firm lawyers have to manage not only the legal aspects of a case (going to court, drafting motions, researching, holding client meetings, etc.), but must also manage the administrative aspects of running a law practice (scheduling appointments, billing clients, answering clients’ emails, returning phone calls, etc.), as well. Solo/small firm attorneys are required to handle all of this while, of course, trying to find the time to market themselves. I am continually impressed by how well these attorneys manage to juggle all the demands that their jobs place upon them.

One common question posed to us is: How can a busy lawyer reach out to more clients? Most practicing attorneys, particularly in this economy, would undoubtedly benefit from having more clients. In order to get more clients, then, you should consider joining a bar-associated lawyer referral service, or two. There are many bar-affiliated lawyer referral services right here in Massachusetts; in fact, I was pleasantly surprised by just how many local, regional, and state bar-affiliated lawyer referral services there are. And, what that means is that we, as attorneys, have more options, and opportunities for reaching new clients.

A lawyer referral service is an organization that is designed to match up clients with attorneys. The services market themselves to clients as middlemen for the finding of lawyers. Have you ever seen this ad? Some of your potential clients probably have. When a potential client calls the lawyer referral service, the lawyer referral service then performs a basic inquiry about the client and what the case is about. Using this information, the lawyer referral service refers the case to a lawyer on their list who practices in the appropriate field.

There are several advantages to becoming a member of a lawyer referral service. First, by joining, you have found another means by which you can obtain more clients. By getting more clients, you will earn more money. Additionally, by joining a lawyer referral service, you may reduce some of your own marketing efforts (or at least feel less marketing pressure), so that you will have more time available to address the administrative requirements of running your law firm. The lawyer referral service will also save you time because they will usually perform a basic client intake for you (so that you don’t have to). That intake will lead to your ultimate referral out, when you come up on the list within your speciality. And, increasing client intake for your specialty will allow you to gain valuable experience within your specialty, so that you will better be able to market yourself as a niche practitioner, and so grow your brand. Finally, joining a lawyer referral service may be particularly beneficial for those of you who are opening up a new practice and, as a consequence, have not yet established a firm client base.

Of course, one must always take into account the drawbacks and limitations of lawyer referral services, as well. The first thing you must remember is that, even though you have been referred a case and a client intake had been performed, you must still vet your clients for quality, and refuse a referral, if you know that you will be taking on a serious problem client. New attorneys may not feel as though they have the luxury of refusing any client, but a bad client is a bad client; and, the time you will lose on a bad client is real, and will affect your ability to invest in marketing yourself appropriately, in order to get the good clients within your specialty that you really want. Keep in mind that clients calling a lawyer referral service have sometimes been through several attorneys before you, and sometimes because they are so difficult to handle. The second drawback to these services is that you must be a member of the bar association with which the lawyer referral service is affiliated; that membership will cost you money. On top of the bar association membership fees, the lawyer referral service itself will usually charge a fee, too. Oftentimes, you must also sign an agreement in order to join one of these services. That agreement may limit how you may handle the case and bill the client. Most agreements also include a fee remittance provision, whereby you will return a portion of your collected fee to the lawyer referral service, for their referral fee. Make sure that you read the agreement that you sign carefully, and that you know exactly what it is that you are agreeing to.

If you want to join a lawyer referral service, or two, after taking stock of both the benefits and the drawbacks, you may click here for a list that I have compiled of all of the bar-affiliated lawyer referral services in Massachusetts, and that includes contact and other general information for each service. Whatever you decide, thanks for reading. And, best of luck to you all!

CATEGORIES: Client Relations | Law Firm Management | Law Practice Startup | Marketing

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