A subscriber says, “Sometimes it feels as if clients don’t want to refer, because they want to keep you to themselves.”
He suggests that it might be “concern about either conflicts of interest (“If I refer my contacts, and later have a dispute. . .”) OR, out of concerns about the lawyer getting too busy, too expensive, etc.”
On the first point, about (business) clients who hesitate to refer because the party they refer might later come after them for something and they won’t be able to hire you to defend them, I have a couple of thoughts.
First, it sounds like we’re talking about former clients because if they’re current clients, the conflict of interest laws help them. If they refer a vendor or party who later sues them, those parties probably won’t be able to hire you for that purpose.
And I would point that out.
Besides, if the client has a good relationship with their vendors or partners, why wouldn’t they want to help them?
Helping them is good for business.
“If you can help your vendors and partners stay out of trouble and save money by referring them to a great lawyer, you’ll be able to do more business with them.”
And then there is the gratitude factor. Help out your contacts and when you need something, they’ll help you.
If a client is still concerned about this, you might give them the option of paying you a (nominal) monthly retainer to remain an active client.
Now, I was going to say I don’t think most lawyers need to worry about this issue because I don’t think most clients aren’t concerned about it. And then I remembered that the attorney who posed this question works in the entertainment field and we all know those people aren’t normal.
It’s an industry that thrives on “knowing people” and referrals are an important part of that. But when it comes to lawyers, I can see how some people would get possessive and maybe even a bit paranoid about losing “their” lawyer.
If you have clients like that, I’m not sure what you can tell them. Maybe talk to them about referring people they know who don’t pose a potential threat to them. Someone they don’t do business with, or someone in another industry. Hey, maybe their grandma needs a lawyer.
As to the second point, that clients hesitate to refer business to you out of concerns that you might get too busy for them, or too successful and expensive, I have to say this does happen. It’s much ado about nothing, but clients are weird and some of them think this way.
I’d address this head on and tell them they have nothing to worry about. You might say, “You know, some clients I talk to about referrals have the silly notion that if they send me a lot of clients I might get too busy for them. I want you to know that won’t happen; here’s why. . .”
Explain that the busier you get, the more support staff you’re able to hire, which frees up more of your time to work directly with clients.
“Ironically, the busier I get, the more time I’ll be able to devote to you,” you can say, and it is true. More staff, and more staff to supervise them.
You should also point out that the more referrals you get, the less you need to spend on other time-consuming and expensive marketing methods. That means you’ll not only have more time for them, you’ll be able to hold down the fees you charge them. “You wouldn’t mind paying me less, would you?”
Show them that their referrals help you to do a better job for your clients. Especially the clients who send you lots of referrals.
How to talk to clients about referrals