How to Build Word-of-Mouth Referrals

It’s hard to understate the importance of referrals when it comes law firm marketing. Referrals are highly sought after because they come with the implied approval of the person giving the referral -- a friend, a family member, a co-worker -- and prospects will be predisposed to hire you because you have been referred by someone they already trust.

Obviously you need to provide great client service before you will get any referrals. But beyond the obvious, there are some things you must do to encourage word-of-mouth referrals, including:

Track your referral sources. First, you need to understand where your current referrals are coming from. Make it a part of your intake process to record the source of every referral, and then scrutinize the list for any patterns that emerge. Are your referrals coming from just a few people or a bunch? Are they all former clients or other attorneys? If you have a multi-discipline practice, do they come from one practice area or are they evenly distributed? This will help you understand what is already working for your firm and what you need to work on to get more referrals.

Set expectations. Many law firms ask clients for referrals at the close of a legal matter. However, setting expectations early in the engagement will result in a better referral rate. Let new clients know that you intend to provide them with exceptional client service and that you hope they will refer you since your business relies on word-of-mouth referrals.

Educate. Educating your clients about your firm is especially important for multi-discipline practices. The person coming to you for help with a personal injury claim may not know that you also help people with employment matters. At the conclusion of each client’s case, lay out for them what a good referral means to you and ask them if they know anyone who could use your help.

Have a process. Don’t just ask for a referral, have a specific process in place that helps people make referrals to you. For example, you can add a referral form to your website for them to fill out that makes it easy for them to refer others to you.

Ask for the referral. One Altman Weil survey revealed that the #1 reason clients do not make referrals Is because they were not asked. I know that many attorneys feel uncomfortable asking for a referral. I think this stems from ego -- we like being in the power position and we feel that asking for help erodes that power. This is the wrong way to view this process! You need to make it about them, not about you. You have just delivered great service to your client, who probably knows others that could benefit from your help. You could actually be doing them a favor by letting them know you are available to help on a number of matters. Please realize that asking for referrals is a very common business practice these days, so you just need to get over any discomfort and find a graceful way of asking.

Leave a lasting impression. There are typically bumps along the road of any legal engagement, but the longest lasting impression is usually the last. Think about something unexpected that you can close out your engagement with, such as a free hour consultation on a related matter.

Speak up. Referrals can also come from people who have never retained you. If you are actively engaged in public speaking or provide seminars for your target clients as a marketing strategy, you have opportunities to leave a lasting favorable impression with people who can then refer other people they know to you. Just be sure that, as part of your presentation, you provide an overview of your firm’s services so your audience is properly educated on how you can help them or someone they know.

Be grateful. This is another obvious step that many firms forget about -- thanking referral sources for each and every referral. Don’t just shoot them an email. Send a handwritten note and a small gift, if appropriate and allowed by your state bar. If another attorney has referred someone to you, let him or her know that you were able to help that client resolve the matter satisfactorily (without breaking confidentiality). Of course, the most meaningful way to thank another attorney for a referral is reciprocity. If you can’t reciprocate, find other ways to provide value -- find out what they need and ways to help them achieve their goals.

If you are able to deliver exceptional client service, the referrals will come. Too many times, we tend to think that delivering a positive outcome to a case is all we need to demonstrate exceptional client service, but it is more often the client’s entire experience with our firm — if we answer emails and phone calls promptly, if we keep them updated on their cases, if we make them feel we care — that has a bigger impact.


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