Business of Law

Teaching clients to make referrals is key to building business, solos say

  • Print


Photo of Kelly Chang Rickert by Sal Owen.

Family law attorney Kelly Chang Rickert believes that if her clients are going to give her referrals, simply saying she did a good job isn’t good enough.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re nice or not. Competence is No. 1,” says Rickert, who’s based in Los Angeles. “I’d want them to say, ‘She’s very good with you and has a good bedside manner.’ But the best referral would be: ‘She kicked butt. She might be a little expensive, but she’s worth it.’ ”

Every attorney uses different tactics, but most will agree that asking clients to make referrals is a tricky and sometimes awkward request that’s a necessary part of building a practice.

Rickert, like many solo practitioners, relies heavily on referrals. She says seven out of 10 clients come to her that way. So she takes steps to make sure clients remember her after their cases are resolved—in their favor, of course. She sends thank-you notes, sometimes with cookies or a Starbucks card.

Reminding clients about her specific skills is key. “Usually I don’t touch the subject of referrals until I’ve done a good job,” she says. “I might say, ‘Remember me when your friends and family go through something like this.’ ”


Lisa Solomon, a solo in Ardsley, N.Y., also takes an active role in nudging clients to make referrals. She sends out a monthly e-newsletter to clients and professional contacts to keep her name fresh in their minds.

“The issue is how to not just sit back and wait for referrals to come in, but to actively work with people you know—how to be proactive in encouraging clients to contact others,” she says.

Like Rickert, Solomon says it’s important to tell clients to be specific when recommending her services. “It’s important to teach your clients what a good referral would be for you,” she says. “It’s educating clients about what your practice is and what kind of client is ideal for your practice. The idea is to presell to the person to whom you’re referring.”

Andrew Flusche, a traffic and misdemeanor defense lawyer in Fredericksburg, Va., says referrals bring in only about 10 percent of his business, but he thinks he can do better and has a plan. “When a client hires us, we send a handwritten thank-you note for trusting us with their business,” he says. “About 30 days after a case is done, we send a thank-you note and say that we depend on referrals here.” The notes are accompanied by business cards that list the practice areas Flusche handles. “We try to make it easy,” he says.

Both Flusche and Solomon say they learned from John Jantsch’s The Referral Engine: Teaching Your Business to Market Itself. Jantsch tells the Journal that for referrals to work, they have to be earned.

“You have to do more than just a good job. You need to exceed their expectations,” he says. “You want to tap that emotional side where they say, ‘Hey, my lawyer did an amazing job.’ No amount of asking or having some clever promotion is going to overcome the fact that you need to deserve your referrals.”

“Tricky Business: Teaching clients to make referrals is key, solos say”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.