When to Ask Legal Clients for References and Referrals

Last week, I talked briefly in my article about business tips for immigration practitioners. In today’s article, I’ll discuss in more detail on ways practitioners can improve their client interactions and, subsequently obtain more references and referrals.

INTENTION IS KEY

If the goal is to increase client willingness to serve as a reference for potential clients, then by all means, the intention to actively increase references must be present. The same would apply for referrals. If you want your law firm or organization to increase its number of future clients as a result of referrals from past clients, you must make it an affirmative goal.

DEVELOP PERSONABLE RELATIONSHIPS WITH YOUR CLIENTS

Human nature is not a huge mystery. If people like you, they will generally want to help if you ask for their help. The key is to know when to ask and to ask nicely. Start by fostering a personable relationship early on. Does the client have a dedicated “point person” or is the client speaking to a new assistant or paralegal each time they call or email? In mid to large firms, it’s very common for clients to have a dedicated paralegal.

The challenge though, is that paralegals can be overwhelmed with the case load. During staff changes or when staff goes on vacation, do you notify your client of the changes in advance in order to alert them to an alternative contact in the interim?

Whenever I took over a case, I always had the supervising attorney send an email to the client, with me carbon-copied on the email, as a way to introduce me to the new case manager. If I was ever out of the office, my out-of-office alerts would leave a very specific contact person to reach in the event there was an emergency client issue. Most large clients also had my cell phone in the event they needed to reach me (though seldom was it ever used). Every chance I had to foster a good relationship with a client, I would try and take advantage of those opportunities. When a particularly challenging case was approved, it was an opportunity to have a rewarding conversation with the client (usually in addition to a follow-up email with more details). In fact, one of the most rewarding parts of being an immigration attorney is being able to deliver good news via phone!

Regardless of organization size, practitioners can always take advantage by sending good news via telephone. It provides a much more personable touch point.

MAKING THE REQUEST

Sometimes, the nature of the legal matter will make certain clients not the ideal clients to ask for a reference. Asylum, abuse and certain family petitions can involve highly sensitive and personal issues that clients may be embarrassed or uncomfortable discussing.

On the other hand, certain business immigration clients who aren’t normally in the process of managing highly sensitive data may be more willing to serve as a reference based their experience with your organization’s attentiveness, business protocols, understanding of the law and maybe overall utility. Practitioners should use their best judgment to gauge which clients, based on the relationship, to be ideal candidates to ask for a reference. Be sure, after a case has concluded, to ask the client if they would serve as a reference. This can be in the form of a reference letter or as an actual reference contact.

The important step to remember is ensuring client references closely match a prospective client. For example, if your largest client is a large consulting firm XYZ Corporation agrees to serve as a reference and your potential client is a small start-up company, then XYZ Corporation may not be the best matched reference. Their business models are different as may be their immigration needs. Remember that your references may be receiving calls from prospective clients so you’ll want to be judicious which prospective clients receive your references.

For clients who have more sensitive legal matters, they may be better suited to refer business to your organization in the future. The key is to ask clients after a matter has been resolved to refer future clients who need assistance to you. One of the best ways to do this is setting up tasks on your immigration software for follow up calls, letters or emails to check in with a client and let them know that you would like to expand your service offerings to a larger community. If you set the intention and affirmatively carry out those goals, you may very well see an increase in prospective client intakes.

Has this worked for you? What’s your experience been with references and referrals?