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Solo In Chicago

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Referral sources...

Obviously there's not one standard answer to this question for all lawyers. It varies greatly based on primarily law practice subject matter and where you are in your legal career. So just so you understand where I'm coming from, I'll have been a 5-year licensed attorney in November 2007 and I've been a sole practitioner since April 2005. My practice primarily encompasses: all facets of family law, residential real estate transactions, and representation of small to mid-sized commercial property owners (leasing and evictions primarily).

What have we tried? What's worked and hasn't worked? What are our future plans?

One thing I did initially was to send a mass mailing to virtually everyone I knew with an announcement that I was opening up my own practice. This is a "must do" and it has reaped benefits and it's interesting how we'll still get calls from people who I forgot even were sent anything and they'll mention that they saved a business card and now they're calling because they have a legal problem. I also sent a mailing to some 250-500 lawyers announcing the opening of my practice and offering to be available for court coverage and referrals. This reaped surprisingly few benefits. I had read about doing this from people such as Jay Foonberg, but I think we got maybe one referral of any kind through this lawyer mailing.

Perhaps six months into our practice I started using LegalMatch.com as a referral source. This is a commercial, Internet-based, geographic-specific matching service. Clients enter their case information and I respond. I'd probably rate this as a 4 out of 10. LegalMatch does generate a high volume of referrals and does market itself aggressively through the various search engines so that potential clients can find it. I'm in their family law referral "pool." The downsides are referral quality and cost of the service. For this current year we paid $5,000. And many of the referrals through LegalMatch are very low money cases and just not clients you even want. It has more than paid for itself the two years we've had it but we will not renew when the current year ends in October.

I am a referral attorney of Pre-Paid Legal, Inc. The only thing I'd say about this is that it's free for lawyers so it doesn't hurt you in the pocket-book. I've gotten 3-5 referrals through them. As one of their referral attorneys you simply agree to give a slight price break to one of their referrals.

Bar association referral services give you great bang for your buck. I'm fairly active in a number of bar associations and I'm amazed when I speak with the occasional lawyer who's not a member of any bar associations, referrals aside you need to be getting legal education and be expanding your attorney network. Back to the referral idea though, I think these are critical because many people who don't have lawyers in their social networks call bar associations for referrals and secondly these are typically like $50 to $75 annually...almost costless. I've gotten good referrals from the Northwest Suburban Bar Association and the Illinois State Bar Association. I actually plan on joining the North Suburban Bar Association for this very purpose. I've heard good things about the Chicago Bar Association's referral program and I'm going to try to get on their family law referral service again. My criticism of CBA is that they make it too difficult for an attorney to be a part of their referral service. When I applied probably two years ago I was denied as not qualified enough and I had three years of heavy family law experience at the time.

Other "professionals." This is a critical area for I'd guess any lawyer. If I had to generalize, some of the above areas are good and useful for the person starting a firm and early in their career. These last two (clients and professionals) are items are more critical for my future and potentially the most lucrative referral sources. For us in the residential real estate area, you simply get most of your referrals from real estate agents...that's the obvious one. Other lawyers are also starting to be critical referrers. I think this takes time but once you have some good lawyers who know what you're doing this may be the best referral source going. An established lawyer gets many, many calls that are outside the breadth of his/her practice area...he/she is a GREAT referral source. Along this line, you should be really getting a nice "lawyer referral file" of your own developed because you're often a referrer too. As an aside, an readers interested in being part of a small list serve to serve this very purpose? Get to know each other in a small setting and then do a better job of handling referrals...shoot me an e-mail!

Current and former clients. I think this the category that isn't too helpful right up front because you either have few or no people in this category but over time this becomes the MOST IMPORTANT category. This is the category I consider most critical right now. After 2.5 years in this set-up we have a mailing list of 500 or so former clients or at least people who've contacted us. We have started a quarterly client newsletter to reach out to this group better. We also do the occasional "targeted" mailing of articles I write that address a specific area of law. I think there's great room for improvement here and there's great upside potential to marketing to this group of persons.

That's an overview of where we've been and where we're going. Ideas?


At 12:14 PM, Blogger G said...


I’m a member of LegalMatch's marketing department and I came across your blog post today. In your review of LegalMatch you indicate an issue with case quality. You also mentioned that although you have made more than your money back, you will not be renewing the service. With the understanding that anyone can present their case, LegalMatch allows its member attorneys to prescreen clients’ information before responding; ensuring attorneys do not spend time speaking to clients who have cases they ultimately do not want to take on. We have always felt this was an added value of LegalMatch that traditional advertising channels can’t offer. That being said, we encourage our members to only respond to cases they want; positioning them in front of cases they deem to be of quality. I was wondering if you had any suggestions on how we might improve our system to attract higher quality cases. We are always looking to refine our strategies in order to deliver a better product to our member attorneys.

At 4:23 PM, Blogger Peter said...

I think I've gotten what was advertised. Partly with us it's a matter of having more "organic" business being developed as our practice gets more mature. I think when I compare LegalMatch to other paid referral sources the return has been lower. With LegalMatch I think generally we've made 2 times as much money in fees versus the cost of the service. With other referral services the income versus cost ratio is significantly higher.

At 9:53 PM, Blogger The Steiners said...

LegalMatch is a nightmare. Sure, you eventually earn more than you pay, but not without significant pain. We responded to over 550 family law cases in a year and secired a whopping 10 clients. Oh yes...pre screening....thanks LegalMatch. Pity the fool that tries to weed through the mess. Unfortunately, it's a numbers game. You have to respond to everything until you make your fee back. Great site for seeking pro bono work though. We get 5 times the referrals for no out of pocket cost (albeit a discount on fees) through Consolidated Legal Services and those clients are working and don't have the issues with funds that the majority of LegalMatch clients do.


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