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I am a lawyer. I am married to a lawyer. I am the friend of hundreds of lawyers and hold thousands more in great regard. If you're a lawyer (or love them), welcome. I invite you to share your thoughts and ideas in this space.

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.

Becoming an excellent lawyer is not the sort of subject typically covered in my Make It Rain® blogs. Suffice it to say that it requires hard work, caring about your clients, humility, and intelligence.
I can, however, suggest ways that one can become known as an excellent lawyer within the legal community. Shine light on your accomplishments, your knowledge, and work you have done. When possible, inform lawyers who may be referral sources about non-confidential aspects of your work. “I recently did this,” is not viewed as bragging if it is also interesting. Help people know exactly what you do and where you might fit into their referral scheme., “I had an opportunity to participate in something related, but not identical, to the kind of work you do,” will keep you top of mind for possible referrals or collaborations. For tips on how to spread news of your articles or speaking engagements, see Writing Articles and Public Speaking.

Write about your work in alumni and other newsletters. Send news of recent accomplishments to other lawyers and perhaps other service professionals, preferably with an interesting tidbit or nuance about the work.

While excellent legal work is the sine qua non for consistent referrals from other lawyers, good judgment is also crucial. No one wants to refer to a lawyer who bills fifty hours when five will do, nor to one who is willing to give a slapdash analysis of a complex issue simply to keep the fees down. If you believe something will take significant time, let the referral source know that. If a client is seeking an impossible or highly unlikely result, communicate that fact before starting work. You may be asked to leave things alone.

Knowing how to read people is crucial. Pay attention to who sends you work and what they want. Ask them why they chose you. You will learn things. It is likely that the reason you were chosen is something others could want as well. Think about whom else you know who may need similar help, and plan to communicate with them accordingly.

The trickiest part of being on other lawyers’ referral lists is instilling confidence in other lawyers that you will not steal their clients. If you have been asked to handle one aspect of a deal or litigation, do only the work you have been hired to do. Unless asked, do not share your opinion of other aspects of the work. Most importantly, if you are with a law firm of any size, tell your colleagues in no uncertain terms not to horn in on the client. Clients do sometimes change lawyers because of referrals, but it should be the client’s idea.
Referrals are regularly withheld because a particular lawyer does not want to give work to a particular law firm because one or more lawyers at that firm are known to have grabbed additional work from clients for whom they had been assigned a discrete task.

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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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When Women Negotiate — for Themselves

When I get together with other professional women to talk about business, our discussions frequently turn to how far women still have to go to close gender-based professional gaps. Without doubt, gender-based pay and other gaps have narrowed in the last few decades, but there is still a sizable difference in what is expected from and given to women professionals, and such distinctions start right after graduation. (See, Gender Pay Gap, The Careerist.)

We all recognize, of course, that the gaps result from a history of discrimination, but in deeper discussions we also acknowledge that at least some portions of the remaining gaps result from our own attitudes and actions. Continue reading

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