The Firm: Remember to thank your referral sources

By Kimberly Atkins

The Daily Record Newswire

When a lawyer receives a client referral, the first thing on his or her mind might be evaluating the case to determine if it's a keeper, then going to work to get the client a good result.

But those who take this approach are missing a crucial step: saying "thank you" to whomever referred that client.

"The person who made the referral to you was essentially selling your services, so when a client calls you, they already know about your good results," said Debra L. Bruce, president of Lawyer-Coach LLC , a law practice management coaching and training firm, and author of the Raising the Bar blog.

Norm Hulcher, a law firm marketing consultant and partner at Hulcher & Hays in Phoenix, said showing appreciation is crucial.

"I don't care how you thank your referral sources, as long as you thank them," Hulcher said.

Failing to say "thank you" is not only rude, Bruce said. It can cost you business.

She recalled sending several referrals to one lawyer, and never getting any response.

"When a new referral request came in," Bruce said, "I had a little conversation in my head: 'She didn't seem to particularly appreciate [the earlier referrals]. She never let me know what happened. Did she even say thank you? I think I'll send this referral to someone else who will appreciate it.'"

Saying thanks is even important when the referral doesn't work out.

"When the referral source has mentioned your name, the ... source has done his or her job," said Hulcher. "They are not responsible for whether it [results] in a good relationship or not."

So what is the best way to show your gratitude? Here are some suggestions:

Write a note

"I recommend a handwritten note because it stands out," Bruce said. "It shows that you put more effort into it."

But there are drawbacks.

"It is not easy to reply," Bruce said. "If you want to initiate a conversion, e-mail is easier."

Pick up the phone

"In my estimation, that is the best way to say 'thank you' to a referral source, especially if that referral source is another lawyer," Hulcher said. "Thanking a person by phone makes an immediate and personal contact."

Send an e-mail

While a form letter or an e-mail is less personal than a handwritten note or call, it's better than not responding at all. And if you send an e-mail and you're not sure it went through, it's never a bad idea to follow up with a phone call.

"Who would be offended because you sent an e-mail and you called?" asked Bruce.

Buy a gift

If you choose to send a gift, personalize it, Bruce recommended.

"If you give someone a gift, tailor it to something that they care about," Bruce said.

Not sure what a referral source's interests are? Check resources like Facebook to see what that person "likes," he suggested.

But be careful and check your state bar ethics rules first, Hulcher said. Some prohibit gifts of more than a certain value in exchange for referrals.

Return the favor

If the referrer is a lawyer, the greatest thanks can be to return the favor. If you don't have a client to send, recommend the referrer's work on a networking site such as LinkedIn, or simply talk up the referrer to a potential client.

Published: Thu, Feb 10, 2011

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