Alternatives to and Limitations of a Referral Service for Attorneys

A referral service for attorneys, or attorney referral services, are regulated by state laws and agencies, as well as standards established by the American Bar Association (ABA). Unfortunately, there is also a fair amount of unregistered, uncertified, and unethical referral activity that is being increasingly rooted out by the industry and state authorities alike.

Legitimate, sanctioned organizations are an important resource for many lawyers with both new and established practices, but there are marketing limitations and alternatives that should be understood to ensure your practice is in the strongest possible market position.

Limitations of a Referral Service for Attorneys

  • Limited Availability and Applicability: Some states have prohibited or are considering prohibiting for-profit referral services that are likely to create a conflict of interest that would undermine the integrity of the legal services profession. At the very least, most state bar associations have adopted versions of Rule 7.2 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which prohibits a lawyer from paying a third party for the recommendation of his/her services with certain exceptions. Lawyers may pay for the reasonable cost of advertising or for referrals from a “qualified referral service”, although most states only allow non-profit organizations certified by the state bar to run a referral service for attorneys. This resource may be worth pursuing, but these organizations alone, however, may not provide a sufficient volume of prospects or be at a cost that allows your firm to build its client base effectively.

  • Limited Market Penetration: Some prospective clients are simply looking for a straightforward recommendation for the best lawyer to take their case. Yet, traditional referral sources are likely to miss those prospective clients who do not wish to rely on this type of referral. They’d rather survey the available lawyers and make their own judgments. In this way, a referral service for attorneys is no substitute for multi-channel marketing in which your law practice is likely to show up multiple times during the client’s search.

Marketing Alternatives for Law Firms

  • Creating Your Own Referral Network: The companies certified by state bar associations as referral services do not necessarily provide actual referrals based on specific qualifications other than that the lawyer is admitted to practice, pays his dues bar dues and possibly pays to be part of a list of lawyers to refer cases. Many simply connect a prospective client to the lawyers in their directory on a round robin basis. They do not actively endorse a firm’s legal services as being qualitatively superior to another’s. Individual referrals from real estate agents, medical professionals, financial planner, therapist, etc. typically have a more personal and profound effect. By networking with these professionals and demonstrating what your law firm has to offer their clients, you can build a more successful law firm.

  • Lead Generation Companies: Specifically, in contrast to companies that pull names from directories and organizational lists that may have only the slightest connection to your area of the law, online lead generators, like Total Attorneys, are using online service request forms to produce some of the most targeted and interested leads for the legal services industry. By furnishing the lead contact information directly to lawyers as part of a cooperative-marketing strategy, and then providing the lawyers with tools to help the firm more effectively connect with those prospects, Total Attorneys creates a more efficient marketplace for consumers without running afoul of professional ethics. Total Attorneys also offers attorneys a format which makes it easy to connect with the consumers so that the attorney can make a service pitch.

Marketing Resources and Business Tools from Total Attorneys

As part of our cooperative marketing strategy, we offer online resources to help our lawyers better develop their own separate marketing channels. In particular, you may want to check out this tutorial on “identifying referral sources and patterns.” Likewise, you can better leverage the leads you receive—both from us and other third-party sources—by using our Practice Management Platform, a versatile data management software system developed specifically for the legal services industry.

Instead of fielding referral phone calls in which you may have to assess the client’s case from scratch, better lead information and lead management software can help you assess the case more quickly and better coordinate your resources in making a legal services pitch to prospective clients.