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Referrals Within Your Firm

Referrals Within Your Firm PHOTO, Lazy Susan at RestaurantFrom a logical perspective, you would think that your best referrals from other lawyers would come from within your own firm. However, in my experience, firms often leave internal referrals to chance and good will. Therefore, firms that do not organize for or teach the art of internal referrals have lots of “leakage”. Work is sent elsewhere, or is otherwise not captured. Fortunately, such leakage can be prevented. Firms can institutionalize activities that encourage cross-referrals among its lawyers.

There are ways to position a firm for successful internal referrals. Many firms have regularly scheduled departmental meetings, at which lawyers come to understand the nuances of each other’s skills and experience. It is an enormous help when, at least quarterly, lawyers from other departments are invited to attend. That way lawyers outside a department can understand exactly what the presenting department, and its individual members, can do. Firms often have capabilities of which many insiders are unaware.

When firm management has not institutionalized this greasing of internal referrals (perhaps seeing it as a frolic and detour), individual lawyers can take matters into their own hands. Lawyers not regularly invited to other department’s meetings, can approach department heads for a schedule and ask to attend particular meetings. Also, if there is a written agenda, lawyers can ask to see the agenda to help them decide whether to attend. Lawyers with rainmaking goals can be proactive within their firms as well as on the outside. As attorneys get to know one another’s expertise, they may find that the best place to send business they cannot do themselves is to someone within their firm.

One good way to try to obtain business from others within your firm is to ask for a list of firm clients from the firm’s business development manager or managing partner. Then see which clients you believe could use the legal services you provide. Those clients may – and probably do – already have a lawyer for these services. You may not know if the lawyer they use with your specialty is already someone within your firm, or if there is an opportunity for you to try to get the business. Ask. The billing or procuring partner will know if that work is already done within your firm. If it is not, ask whether there is a way to present you as a possible boon to the client.

If you have written materials about your skills, or better yet, about your accomplishments, in that arena, ask the relevant partner to either introduce you by e-mail or send the client your materials. (You should be copied or blind copied.) If the work you could do is not currently being done within your firm, but the relevant partner does not want to present you, ask why. You will at least learn something about how you are perceived internally, and may be able to persuade your colleague to reconsider.

On a more general basis, anytime you believe you have done something of note – such as bringing in a new client, engaging in work within a specialty that is new for you (or perhaps for your firm) or having an article or letter to the editor published in a trade paper – spread the word to lawyers within your firm who might be able to tout your work. The more your colleagues know about you and what you can do, the more you will be top-of-mind and sought out for help and expertise within your own firm. Internal networking can be just as fruitful as external networking.

For a Make It Rain® blog about similar external networking skills see “I Didn’t Know You Did That.”

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Referring and Collaborating, Part 2 – Getting Work

Working_Together_Teamwork_Puzzle_Concept (1)One hallmark of a contented and mature personal life is that you can help others without expecting a return. Few of us are consistently mature, but many lawyers do give referrals without strings to other lawyers. It is also true that lawyers’ maturity may not be tested much, because lawyers who help their fellows often get helped in return.

In the world of legal referrals and business collaboration, long-lived selfless giving is not expected. Business reciprocity is not about love, or even karma. It is about respect, helping each other’s (or shared) clients, and getting a job done well. You will not, and should not, be sent work for which you are ill-suited, and which you could not do well.

Three key ways to obtain referral work from other lawyers are 1. Having and maintaining technical legal skills and acumen, 2. Having a reputation for the same, as well as for good judgment, and 3. Being trustworthy regarding not stealing another lawyer’s clients. Continue reading

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Referring and Collaborating, Part 1 – Giving

Getting and keeping legal work is how lawyers survive and thrive. But there are frequently circumstances in which it makes sense to give away some or all of a piece of business. Even the best lawyers cannot do everything, or be right for all clients. Therefore lawyers both refer and collaborate, and indeed the English-speaking legal profession has a strong tradition of referral and collaboration. How to choose with whom to “partner”, whom to trust with the care of your clients, whom to trust to not poach your clients, is a decision that should be made with great care. Whether to stay involved in a particular transferred matter, at least in a small way, or to delegate work entirely is typically the threshold question for a lawyer soliciting another lawyer’s help.

Whether it is crucial to stay involved largely depends upon three things: whether you will be doing a substantial part of the work, how bonded you are to the client, and how much you trust the other lawyer who will be working with your client. Continue reading

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La Verne Law School Shoots Straight

La Verne Law School, is doing well. That is a turnaround from 2011 when La Verne, the only law school in the Southern California Inland Empire, lost students and, temporarily, lost its solid reputation for training lawyers. In that year the ABA denied La Verne Law its final accreditation because of a low first-time Bar pass rate.

Since then the school recruited a dynamic new Dean from the University of Baltimore, Gilbert Holmes. Dean Holmes, the faculty, and the staff resurrected La Verne Law. It is again viewed as a significant developer of young lawyers, many of whom stay in and practice law in the Inland Empire, an area with a dearth of lawyers. The school encourages local practice.

The school confronted its ABA accreditation problem head-on, partly by creating a Center for Academic and Bar Readiness within the law school. The Center operates during all of the law school years, and specifically teaches third-year students subjects and methods to pass the bar. It worked: La Verne’s most recent first-time Bar pass rate was 87.5%. Based on that Bar pass rate, La Verne Law should receive final ABA accreditation on its next evaluation. Continue reading

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Whistle While You Work

There is a silver lining for lawyers in the storm cloud of the legal world’s continuing recession. Lawyers, law students, and people considering law school are paying more attention to what makes them happy. Because law school is no longer a sure road to a financially comfortable life, lawyers, and people contemplating a life in the law, are focusing more than they have since the 1960s on whether they will be happy as lawyers.

How precise are you, how thoughtful, how careful? Without those qualities, diligence and creativity are not sufficient for a happy and successful legal life. Happy lawyers tend to enjoy both creativity and precision. When lawyers only like one or the other, their professional happiness is diminished. Continue reading

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