Much of the work received by litigators, arbitrators and expert witnesses relies on receiving referrals from other lawyers and professionals. Studies show that often referred customers are more loyal than clients that come in without a reference, and studies a decade ago, state that these customers have a higher lifetime value – meaning they spend more dollars over the long-term.[i]
The frustration with understanding this comes from the question, “How can I make this happen? How can I increase the number of my referral sources and how can I get more referrals coming from the contacts that I already have in my corner?”
Some of this can be accomplished by ensuring that you simply show up. Attending conferences, belonging to the right associations, and of course, being active on the right platforms, all will help, but what are the other steps you should take?
Know Your Niche
When someone says “I’d like a quick take-out coffee,” you usually think of Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, or some other fast-food type of caffeine hive. That’s because those companies have developed a niche for creating the most reliable cup of coffee.
While lawyers are the furthest thing from hot beverages, the same marketing principle of developing a niche pertains to you. Before you take steps to market yourself, think about what it is you want to be known for. Do you want to be the first person clients call for handling complex litigation in the chemical industry? Are you reinforcing your profile as a leading arbiter at The Hague?
Regardless of what tactics you decide to take in your marketing journey, starting with a strategy and knowing your niche is essential. This is the first step in creating your plan. When I wrote the book “Best Practices in Law Firm Business Development and Marketing”, one of the GCs with whom I spoke pointed out that it was essential to be honest about what you do best and what you don’t do. He pointed out that a firm “can’t be Wachtell [CP1] in all its practices.”
Create Your Marketing Plan
Various studies demonstrate that people who write down their plans are more likely to achieve them. In addition, defined written goals are often more likely to be completed. This certainly applies when it comes to marketing plans. If you are fortunate, you will have the resources behind you of a marketing department or a coach who can help you with this; but even without that support, and maybe even more so, it’s crucial to have a clear-cut plan.
The key elements in a plan are your niche, and your objectives, tactics and a timeline to know where you are going. Imagine taking a trip to visit someplace new, but not having any directions to get there. You need to have a plan.
Track Your Referrals
While developing new relationships and fostering additional business sources will always be essential, it’s even more important to look back and see who has sent you business in the past.
Reviewing this information will do two things. First, you’ll see patterns of what types of marketing activities have worked effectively to advance your business development. For example, has it helped that you’ve been giving five speaking engagements a month, and has that factored into any of your success? Does your annual visit to firms in a particular country move the needle on your revenue? This look back will help you determine which paths to take for the future. While there is generally not going to be a direct cause and effect, you should be able to tell if these efforts have contributed to your success.
Second, a review of past referrals will illuminate those people with whom you should continue to cultivate a relationship. Even if there is no current matter on your plate or theirs, finding ways to remain in touch is essential. This might be in the form of producing joint seminars, or simply sending a note to say hello or to share some information that could be useful to them. Be sure to track those referrals and treat them like gold. Stay in touch, even when they don’t have work to send your way.
If You Have One, Work With Your Marketing Department
They are intelligent professionals, and you need to spend time with them to get the support you want. As a former CMO, I know that those partners who spent time discussing developments in their practice with me and my department were more likely to receive additional support. If my group and I knew more about their business, we could recommend and develop plans to help promote them.
Referrals are an important part of developing a practice and should be treated like an asset class of their own.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Deborah Farone has been called the leading expert in law firm marketing and recognized as one of the CMOs who helped found the business development and communications profession at law firms. She is Strategic Advisor at Farone Advisors in New York City, working with leaders of the world’s most successful professional services in marketing and business development. In addition, she takes on 10 clients each year for one-on-one bespoke business development and personal branding coaching. She is a frequent speaker and is the author of “Best Practices in Law Firm Business Development and Marketing” (PLI 2019).
[i] The basis of this has been known for the past ten years, through joint work at the University of Pennsylvania in the United States and Goethe University, in Frankfurt, Germany. See, https://faculty.wharton.upenn.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Schmitt_Skiera_VandenBulte_2013_Referrral_Programs_2.pdf