Courtly Manners: The Referral That Keeps on Giving
California Lawyer
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Courtly Manners: The Referral That Keeps on Giving

May 2014

It made sense when you brought in "Alex" for your client's wage-and-hour case; he is, after all, the best employment lawyer you know. But after he suggested that the client hire your competition for another piece of business your firm hoped to get, there is no way in Hades you will ever give him another referral. Alex quite simply forgot who invited him to the dance.

All too many attorneys inadvertently land on their colleagues' do-not-call lists this way. "When the guy I bring in tries to get his own team in place and I get cut out of the picture, yeah, I got a problem with that," says one real estate law partner. Alex may have thought of his move as aggressive business development, but it cost him on multiple fronts.

In turn, what should you do if your colleague Tina has just referred you to her client to handle IP matters, and the client then asks your advice about family law attorneys? Even if you know the best, and you're sure Tina would agree, you will keep the greatest number of relationships intact if you tell the client you have people in mind, promise to get back to her as fast as possible, and check in with your referral source: "Tina, the client asked about a divorce attorney. If you don't have someone in mind, I've heard Kerri is excellent. Let me know if you'd prefer to suggest someone else."

Your relationships with referral sources are like any others: You need to protect them and nourish them if you want them to flourish. Thanking your sources is also crucial, but doing it poorly also can land you on do-not-call lists. In the next Courtly Manners, you'll learn how to do it right.

Crystal Rockwood, president of Rockwood Communications Counsel in Seal Beach, provides communication, reputation, and business etiquette services to law firms.

Reader Comments

Diane Rifkin - May 1, 2014
Crystal - this article is "right on"! I know someone who experienced this exact scenario and it can really damage a professional relationship. Great advice!
Crystal Rockwood - May 2, 2014
Thanks Diane, as a recruiter I am sure you hear plenty of horror stories in this area. Stay tuned for the next column on this subject!
Linda Duffy - May 4, 2014
Crystal, great article! Your advice is on the money and so important for people to heed. It is bad business and bad karma to burn bridges with anyone, and especially someone who was so kind to refer you business.
crystal rockwood - May 14, 2014
Good points Linda, and thanks for sharing. I have already received several emails from people sharing stories of how they've been burned. Hopefully, this will be a wake-up call.
Jim Hinds - May 16, 2014
Crystal, we run into this problem all the time. We do a lot of work for larger law firms who need a middle market billing alternative for there star clients. We never "burn" a referral source and always keep the referring lawyer "in the loop." If the client comes to us with a new assignment we always make a call to the referring lawyer for the green light. We built a small boutique law firm on referrals and know what is best practices.
Mahyar Ghassemian - May 16, 2014
Crystal: as always your advice is invaluable. I have experienced this first hand and unfortunately by a very experienced attorney. It only indicates ignorance and an utter disregard for professional relationships. Thanks for targeting this behavior. I look forward to your next issue of Courtly Manners.
Kathleen Peterson - May 21, 2014
Great advice, Crystal, and a great reminder to all of us. We need to remember to slow down and remember where our clients come from.
crystal rockwood - May 21, 2014
Jim, Mahya, Kathleen - Thanks for sharing your perspectives. I am stunned by how often this referral-burn happens. Wait, it gets dicey when it comes to thanking the person. Next column! Thanks again.

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