Scott Limmer

This episode talks about steps solo or small firm practitioners can take to help build a steady stream of referrals. The hosts discuss the benefits of a referral-based practice which provides a base of clients who come to your practice already having been pre-screened and eager to be helped. The positive expectation of a referral client increases the likelihood that you will be retained by them.

Keys to building a referral client base are similar to building a valuable network:

  • Always keep referrals on top of your networking and referral partners’ minds by mentioning it during networking opportunities
  • Provide value to your referral partners by keeping them in the loop about the case and thanking them promptly for the referral even if it does not pan out to a new client
  • Remind potential clients that since your business is referral-based it is important that you do a good job on their case so that the potential client will become a referring client.
  • Give referrals back to lawyers who refer you clients or if you can’t do that then find other ways to give value and make it a two-way street – take them out to lunch, send them an article related to their practice, tickets to a ballgame.

While it can be time-consuming to devote so much time to building a referral-based practice, it is vital if you want to have a consistent flow of business and is well worth the time you put into it.

Episode transcript

INTRO:                      Welcome to Reboot Your Law Practice, two lawyers, a podcast, and a plan to help any solo or small firm, hosted by Scott Limmer and Oscar Michelen.

OSCAR:                      Hello everybody, this is Oscar.

SCOTT:                      Hi everyone, this is Scott. Welcome to Reboot Your Law Practice. I’d like to first thank everyone for all the positive feedback we’ve been getting on the podcast. We’d also appreciate if you could just leave us a review on iTunes. That would be great. So Oscar, what are we going to be talking about today?

OSCAR:                      Well, it’s kind of an offshoot of our favorite topic, which has been networking.

SCOTT:                      Networking, networking, networking.

OSCAR:                      Yes but as we know, it is vital to small and solo practitioners.

SCOTT:                      What do we do it all for?

OSCAR:                      Exactly. We’re doing it all for referrals. So we’re going to be talking a little bit about how to help build a referral based practice if you’re a small firm or solo practitioner, and it is an offshoot off of networking which we have been talking about endlessly, but for the people that we’re talking to, lawyers trying to boot up their practice again or trying to make this small or solo practice grow, a referral based practice is the best source of business, the best way to keep yourself afloat.

SCOTT:                      I can speak from experience. I’ve had an advertised based practice and now I have a referral based practice. When I practice solely criminal law, I advertised, had phonebook ads, and used the website, I got business but there’s no guarantee it’s going to keep coming.

OSCAR:                      Right. What most lawyers do there, you’re 100% right, is they will pay for an ad campaign and then they will put some money into that ad campaign. That ad campaign will run and then they will have a month maybe of phone calls and some business, then they will do that business and they stop the ad campaign, those cases will go away, and now they are like “Uh-oh, I have no more work. I got to now pour money back in, wait for that ad campaign to run.”

SCOTT:                      Right.

OSCAR:                      You can only live in these peaks and valleys for so long where as if… you can still do that, by the way. Building a referral based practice doesn’t mean you have to stop doing the other things you might be doing to get business but it’s the most reliable consistent way to grow. What it’s like when a guy who has been referred to you comes to you as opposed to a guy who saw an ad?

SCOTT:                      The guy that comes to me who has been referred to me, the good word has been put in, he knows about me, knows that hopefully I’m competent and I’m going to do a good job for him, and he is probably eager to see if I can do what he would like me to do, which is help him.

OSCAR:                      Yeah. they have these positive expectations of you before they walk into the door. Sure, your ad or whatever, your website, is going to sell you but having somebody say, “I trust this person. You should go talk to this guy. He’s a good lawyer, good person. He/she is easy to talk to and can help you with your problem.” They come pre-vetted in a way and very often, it’s a much easier transaction, if you will, to close because that person already is positive about you and says, “I’m going to be able to go back to the person who referred them to me if this doesn’t work out and say, “Hey, that guy or that woman you referred me were good. Chances are, you wouldn’t have sent me here if he didn’t think this person could do the job.”

SCOTT:                      Exactly. This comes back to other things we’ve spoken about. You’ve now been referred a client. You’re going to do a job for him and obviously, you want to do a good job for the client, and you will, but now you can get value to the referral partner that referred you the case. It’s a cyclical situation.

OSCAR:                      Exactly. They will be happy that you made their referred person happy. So one of the first things that you have to kind of get used to, which is similar to what we talked about with networking is you got to kind of mention it all the time. You kind of have to let people know that you are looking for referrals and that is the primary source of your business. Even when you go to these networking functions and people ask you about your practice, whatever, and you discuss it, there will be an opportunity to come up for you just to even start throwing it out there and say, “Well, the vast majority of my cases or my clients come from referral. I’m very proud of the fact that my prior clients are my best source or business, other lawyers or whatever.” Start putting that into the people’s minds as you hand them your card and don’t just say, “Hey, give me a call for a cup of coffee.” Put in their mind, “I’m looking for folks to send me clients and refer me business.”

SCOTT:                      Obviously, when we talk about, “You should have this on your mind,” remember what we spoke about in previous podcasts. You’re not going up to somebody and shaking their hand and 20 seconds later looking at, “What’s in it for me? How am I going to get this guy to refer me a case?” You’re at networking events to learn about people. People want to learn about you. They want to know if you’re somebody that they can use as a resource and if you are specific about, “Listen, that’s exactly what I do with my Special Education practice.” When I talk about my Special Educaiton practice to people, it’s a small niche. Not a lot of people know about it and I try to make myself a resource for networking partners that I have.

OSCAR:                      Exactly.

SCOTT:                      I don’t have a lot of stuff to give back to people. I don’t have that type of practice but I’m there and I give people the value and make sure that I take care of them or their clients. They know that they have that in me.

OSCAR:                      And gives them a place to refer somebody with that particular need.

SCOTT:                      Right.

OSCAR:                      But then I’m also talking about not just at networking events but now when the client comes in, they call the firm, make sure your receptionist, your staff, or if it’s yourself answering your phones, whomever, asks where did you get our name? Where did you come from? How did you hear about us? If they say anything other than referral, say, “Oh, okay because most of my clients come to us from referrals and I’m glad you came that way or I just wanted to know whether you came that way as well.” Now you start telling that person, that new client, “You know what, I’m kind of expecting you, relying on you to think about me when I do a good job.” Now they’ve come, like we’ve said, they bare pre-vetted, they know that you’re basing your business on this referral. At the end of the interview, make sure whether they sign up or not, “Hey, I hope I provided good information to you” or “thanks for signing up.” Here’s a couple extra cards of mine in case you know anybody else who could use my services. I’d appreciate it if you’d thought of me and referred me.” That’s how I build my business and that’s the very key that you keep mentioning it to your existing clients.

SCOTT:                      I know we’re talking about law and maybe there are colorful ways to say things that maybe, I don’t know, an older type lawyer might not like, but when I look at this and I’ve been reading a lot about things like this, you’re forming a fan club. You’re forming a tribe. You’re forming people who are going to talk about you to others because you’ve helped them. They are going to know because you’ve said, “Hey, my business is based on referrals. My business is based on good people like you and other people that I help going out and discussing it in their community and say I know this guy Oscar. He’s absolutely going to help. He helped me with that problem.”

OSCAR:                      A side note too, the other way to get it in the discussion, and I don’t know that any attorneys older than me are listening to podcasts but at any event, for older attorneys who may not be as comfortable just putting it out there, think about it this way, when they ask you for some kind of assurance, like, “Why should I hire you? What are you going to do that’s different?” It’s very compelling when you say to them, “My business comes from clients referring business back ot me and other people. If I don’t take care of them and I don’t take care of them well, I don’t eat. I’m not advertising. You’re not going to see me with a billboard walking up and down the street. You’re not going to see me at 1 AM asking you to send me business. I need to take care of my customers, my clients because that’s how I get business.” For most clients, they are going to say, “You know what, that makes sense. He needs to take care of me because that’s the only way I’m going to give him business back.

SCOTT:                      Exactly.

OSCAR:                      And even the younger generation, if you think about it, are all living on reviews.

SCOTT:                      Absolutely. You do something wrong, you get a bad Google review, they throw something up on your Facebook page, absolutely.

OSCAR:                      Right and now they can go to sites if you participate in AVOW and other places that either endorse you or diss you, whatever they want to do.

SCOTT:                      The world is a way more transparent place obviously than it used to be. An attorney used to be able to work in his office and nobody knows anything about him or what he does. He comes out every once in a while, goes to court.

OSCAR:                      That’s it.

SCOTT:                      But now with social media, there’s chatter about you. There are a million places to put a review about somebody and say, “Hey, they did a good job, they did a bad job.”

OSCAR:                      Right. That’s why the clients can understand that aspect of it. They can expect that you’ll be looking if not for a review because you’re not a restaurant or a retail store, and even transition it that way and say, “Hey look, if you want to review me in any of the sites that I’m on, that’s fine but the best reference that you could ever give me is thinking about me if you hear anybody who needs my services or needs a lawyer, or if anybody asks you, tell them you know somebody and think of me and keep thinking of me.” The one other aspect that we should talk about is what do we do to follow up with that. What happens when the case ends?

SCOTT:                      As far as following up with the client you’re talking about?

OSCAR:                      Yeah.

SCOTT:                      There are a lot of different things you could do with regards to following up with a client. I’m actually again talking about my practice, trying to figure out how to do that right now with my special education practice. I’ve resisted using a newsletter type thing because I hate being bothered by people’s newsletters. I had a conversation with someone the other day that basically said, “Hey, again you serve a little niche. If you send somebody something once a month, maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.” I took that to heart. I need to follow up with clients better. I know that. There are things you need to do. You need to send them an email every once in a while to remind them about you, that you’re still here, maybe successes, maybe things that you’ve written, just to keep them in the loop so they think about you.

OSCAR:                      Right. If there are particular cases over but let’s say there’s something 30 or 45 days down the road that had to be done that they had to do or follow up on, reach out to them. Another good idea is asking them to like your social media page, follow you on Twitter, Instagram, whatever you’re participating in, and those are nice ways that you could keep updated with them. I always recommend to folks who ask a close out letter, “Thanks for hiring me. I’m glad we were able to resolve it” or whatever, and just get that out there so they have that last point of contact. The other thing that’s important is don’t forget to keep the guy or woman who referred you the client up to date and let them know what’s happening with the case. Particularly when it’s over, I would say call them, thank them, and say, “Here’s what happened with the case. Whether it worked out well, poorly, or somewhere in the middle, that call has to be made to that referral source so that the next time they see that person, they already know. You should be updating that referral source along the way until that person tells you, “You know what, I don’t want to even hear about it.” That’s different but I find that the guys who refer me business very much appreciate to being kept in the loop.

SCOTT:                      Absolutely. It’s easy. You don’t have to make a phone call. You don’t have to do anything. You write a one-sentence email and you sign it “Oscar” and you’re done.

OSCAR:                      Right, exactly.

SCOTT:                      That’s it. Hey, this is what’s going on. We did this, we did that.

OSCAR:                      “We were on court. Nothing much happened. The client is getting here documents together and thanks so much for thinking of me.”

SCOTT:                      Right and if this attorney is good friends with the client and they go out to dinner that weekend, they are talking about, “Oh Oscar sent me that email. Oh that’s great that Oscar keeps up with everybody.”

OSCAR:                      Imagine how impressed both the client and the source will be when the client calls the source and says something else by the way, talking about them for another reason. The reason that they are going to that person and the referral partner says, “Oh yeah, and by the way, I got an email from Oscar. It looks like things are going good” or “Scott tells me your hearing is coming up and you’re nervous about that.” I’m telling you, that is worth 10 ads. It’s worth a mountain of advertising to have that connectivity and it makes the client feel like the referral partner who they relied on because they asked for it. Don’t’ forget, somebody went to this person and said, “I trust you. Who do you trust?” So they are going to go back to this person and they are going to be very impressed that this person they trust knows what’s going on and is being kept in the loop.

SCOTT:                      Two things to divert on a tangent a little bit.

OSCAR:                      Yes.

SCOTT:                      First of all again, it’s the value. That’s all. We keep repeating it but it’s the same thing. You’re giving people value for free. You’re not making money on it. You’re giving value but that’s what’s going to bring the business back to you because that’s how you do business. You want to refer to people who keep you up to date, who are smart people, who are thoughtful. It’s the same way. You do the same way and that’s how you’re going to get business.

OSCAR:                      And the old school ways, by the way, to keep in contact with your referral partners in between networking events still works. The guys referred you a couple of cases but you haven’t heard from them in a while, call them up. Take them out to lunch.

SCOTT:                      Sure.

OSCAR:                      Especially if one case is still pending and you might like to chat about it or whatever. Holiday time, send them something. keep them in the loop and keep your name constantly up on the top of their mind so that when someone says, “Hey, do you know a lawyer?” They say, “Boy, do I know a lawyer,” and it comes in your direction. So you got to do it consistently. It’s a constant, constant effort.

SCOTT:                      So as you keep saying that it’s a constant, constant effort, this is the second point that I want to go to. As a solo practitioner, as someone who does not have an office staff, while I do use some people on a freelance site to do a few things for me, I don’t have a regular office staff, doing all of this can become overwhelming, can wind up taking up a lot of your time, and you say to yourself, “My God, when am I going to practice law?” We’re going to do this in a future podcast but really the way to do it is to learn how to deal with technology, learn how to be up to date, learn how to make things automatic. So you write something, it’s a touch of a button, and it goes. It takes a little bit of time at first but once you learn how to do it, you’re good to go because if you try to do everything individually every time it comes up, you’re going to make yourself crazy.

OSCAR:                      That’s right. Hopefully, you’re going to have enough business that you are busy practicing law.

SCOTT:                      Right.

OSCAR:                      To me, whenever I think about, “I should call somebody,” either call them right away or I calendar it. Put it on my phone, “Call this person on Thursday.” Come hell or high water, that call is being made. Anytime I put something in my calendar, I treat it like a court appearance, that I don’t have a choice. I have to call this person and follow up on this case. I have to call that person.

SCOTT:                      It’s really easy to bury your head in work and not worry about any of that stuff and say, “Listen, I’m a good lawyer. I’m working hard. I’m right in this motion.” If you’re not bringing in business, you’re not networking, and you’re not reaching out to these people, you’re not going to have a successful business.

OSCAR:                      A practice, right. I agree with you also, Scott, that technology is your friend in that area. We’ll deal with that in a later podcast but that’s the start of it. The last thing I’d like to say is be on the lookout for your ability to refer business back to those referral partners. Scott mentioned that a lot of that doesn’t come his way. He can find different ways to give value but if you have that ability. That is key. Remember, “Oh this guy gave me that last case. Let me send him whatever work it is that comes that way. Let me recommend him.” By the way, even if that person may not call him, call that referral partner and say, “Hey, I just sent over John Smith. He’s looking to build a second floor in his house. I hope he calls you,”whatever it is they do.

SCOTT:                      In the same way we talked about you wanting referrals from people because that’s how you run your practice. You should, as Oscar say, always be looking for referral opportunities for your referral partners, for your friends. We have a guy in my networking group. It’s the ABT, “Always Be Trolling.” That’s what he says. But he comes in and he’s got a referral for the divorce attorney, he’s got a referral for the car guy. He’s got a referral for the credit card guys because he went into a restaurant and said, “Hey, who does your credit card?” The next thing you know, the guy has got a meeting with the restaurant.

OSCAR:                      By the way, that’s the whole point which is, those opportunities are there. You’re not looking for them.

SCOTT:                      Absolutely.

OSCAR:                      When you start looking for them and thinking about them, they are going to come to you. It’s going to happen and you just have to be open and look for it. It’s a two-way street.

SCOTT:                      That’s exactly it. People want to give you opportunities. They are looking for people to do business with. It might as well be you.

OSCAR:                      Right. So lots to think about growing a referral based practice. There are lots of different programs and CLEs and things you can go to, to learn more if you’re interested in that, but I’m telling you, you can do it yourself by just focusing on it and making it a concerted effort to remind people that that is the root of your business. Once again, this is Oscar. Thank you for listening. You can reach me at

SCOTT:                      And you can reach me at Our phone number is 516-900-4842. Feel free to leave a message with an idea for a topic for the show, any questions, or any issues you’d like to see discussed. Thanks everyone. We’ll talk to you next week.


OUTRO:                     This has been Reboot Your Law Practice with Oscar Michelen and Scott Limmer.


Leave a Reply