What Is Referral Marketing?

By Stephanie Lica

28 Jan 2020 | Lawyer Marketing

Social media, emails, and search engine optimization may play a vital role in modern law firm marketing efforts, but referrals remain as powerful a tool as ever. 

Whether they come from clients or fellow attorneys, referrals can prove a valuable source of business for both new and established law firms. On the client end, they provide significant peace of mind; those concerned about the potential quality of legal service can rest assured knowing that trusted attorneys or peers have already vetted the prospect in question.

What Are Referrals?

In law, the term “referral” relates to any lead delivered through a personal recommendation. Referrals can arise from fellow attorneys, former clients, or other individuals. These leads are often regarded as qualified, as referred clients are more likely to trust recommended lawyers — and are therefore more willing to ultimately convert.

The benefits of referrals certainly don’t end with gaining quality prospects. On the other end of the equation, referrals allow attorneys to make the most of leads that might not be right for their particular firm. For example, a law firm that focuses on medical malpractice suits might not be able to serve leads related to real estate law. 

Rather than simply ignoring prospects they can’t serve on their own, lawyers can assist such leads in finding reliable legal service elsewhere. As the ultimate win-win approach, this outbound solution allows attorneys to establish better relationships with fellow lawyers, and may even produce a secondary revenue stream.

How Does Referral Marketing Work?

Referral marketing can take many forms. While it technically involves any effort to recommend a prospect to a specific attorney — or to convince others to provide such recommendations — it typically requires a concerted effort. This involves not only securing referrals, but also making the most of them to ensure high conversion rates. 

Sustained success can best be achieved via a referral management system, which streamlines the process from start to finish. Such solutions minimize the guesswork for busy attorneys and intake staff members. Referral management solutions allow both incoming and outgoing prospects to be closely tracked, with intake information automatically integrated to ensure a seamless process.

Referral networks and pipelines often incorporate fees, which, according to the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, should only be sought for referrals involving fellow lawyers. A fee-based system can produce a stronger stream of referrals, but it may not be viable or ideal for all law firms. When initiating fee-related referral strategies, clear expectations are critical; agreements should highlight more than fee percentage alone. They should also mention who, exactly, will handle the case and whether multiple parties will be involved.

Regardless of the source or the use of fees, the referral’s source should be thanked. Follow-ups should also be provided to increase the likelihood of future referrals.

The value of referral marketing can’t be denied in today’s legal landscape. Prospective clients desire reassurance, which can be quickly delivered by way of strong referrals from those they trust most. By investing in targeted referral marketing initiatives, today’s law firms stand to dramatically improve conversions, client satisfaction, and overall marketing ROI.

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