We’ve all been there, and it’s always awkward – as a lawyer, how do you ask your clients for clients? Restrictions regulating how lawyers may promote themselves – particularly around direct advertising and specific fields, like personal injury and compensation – make referral marketing all the more necessary for lawyers. To assist, Insights has put together a guide on the subtle art of referral marketing for lawyers, with practical tips on how to build your practice on client goodwill, your connections and referrals.
As counterintuitive as it may initially seem, the first and best way to win a referral is to avoiding asking for one. Instead, demonstrate your worth and expertise. Consider how you come across to your referral network, and to potential clients.
“Your online visibility is an emerging factor in increasing the probability of referrals,” Simone Hughes, a leading PR and marketing consultant, told Canadian Lawyer. “Being able to point to up-to-date, relevant online evidence is a higher form of persuasion. Our fast-moving lives and increasing desire for instant gratification is moving more people to fact-check online in lieu of in person.”
Conversely, Hughes noted other psychological factors at play when people make referrals.
“Studies show that around half of potential clients use lack of relevant and quality online presence to cross you off their list,” said Hughes. “Referring high-priced and high-risk legal work is scary. Making a poor referral becomes a reflection on the referrer. And worse, if it’s the referrer’s own client, they may not only lose face but lose their client, too.”
To address this issue, law firms may wish to consider a regular e-newsletter which showcases their expert commentary on new developments in law. For maximum branding and search engine optimisation (SEO) benefits, this commentary could be published on the law firm’s blog.
At a bare minimum, ensure the law firm’s website is updated for design, technology, changes to staff and expansion of practice areas every few years. As of late 2016, mobile usage exceeded desktops – that is, more people were using their smart phones and tablets to access websites than their desktops or laptops.
“This should be a wake up call especially for small businesses, sole traders and professionals to make sure their websites are mobile friendly,” Aodhan Cullen, CEO of Statcounter, told the Telegraph. “Many older websites are not,” added Cullen.
Categorise your contacts
As well as demonstrating your expertise, it’s worth organising your approach to referrals.
“Get organised by loading all your contacts and their information into a database,” urged Eric Dewey in American Bar. Dewey, who has held senior marketing roles with major American law firms, suggested starting with an Excel database or Word document – though it may be worth investing in a client relationship management system.
With each contact, capture as much core information as possible – current position, related company personnel (e.g. secretary, boss, colleagues), personal interests and notes to help kick start conversation. LinkedIn could be helpful in this regard.
When it comes to contacts who could refer work to your law firm, think as broadly as possible.
“You can be referred work from your own firm’s lawyers; existing clients (either more of their own work or their business networks’ work); family and friends; community connections, client industries (associations, AGMs, conferences, sponsorships, networking events); or legal communities (law societies, associations, legal networks),” said Hughes.
Once captured, Dewey suggested categorising contacts into high potential (e.g. clients, other lawyers with knowledge of your work), and moderate potential (e.g. bankers, accountants, consultants), with everyone else falling into a lower potential category.
Keep in touch
Having done the hard yards of collecting and categorising contacts and creating commentary for a blog and e-newsletter, it is crucial to keep in touch. In a practical sense, this may involve scheduling a monthly or quarterly e-newsletter to send to all your high to moderate potential contacts, especially clients – current, and past. Or it may involve catch-up coffees or Christmas cards or calling on birthdays – whatever fits best for you. Give your high potential referrers opportunities to know what you’re up to, and ways to refer you on – by forwarding an e-newsletter, or relating a story of your success with another case.
...and if you do ask, time it well
Ultimately, your aim is to create a culture in which you do ask for an introduction, a referral, for more business. Think of the timing. If your client praises you for settling a matter well, thank them – and ask them to keep you in mind.