Rewarding referral sources as part of a good business development strategy

By Jim Grandone | Apr 11, 2013

It has been my experience in working with law firms in Illinois and Missouri that much of their new business comes from referrals from other lawyers.  Expertise, conflicts, workload and other reasons are cited as reasons the business is referred.

In a recent conversation, I asked a group of partners if they kept an enterprise-wide database of the lawyers who sent them business.  The answer was a resounding “No.”

The follow-up question also was illuminating.  Other than mutual referrals, have you ever done anything tangible to show your appreciation for their referrals?  Again I got a negative response.

When someone does you a favor (sending you new business counts as a favor regardless of circumstances) do you feel obligated to return the favor?  I think most people either return the favor in kind or give something in return.  Does that apply to business?  Of course it does, but first you have to know who did what and that takes a plan.

During the course of the day, you may be too busy serving clients and writing to think about where the clients came from, however, if you want them to keep coming  then you should consider rewarding the sources.  A good practice is to sponsor an appreciation event for those who have referred new clients to your firm in order to let them know you appreciate their thoughtfulness.

Depending on your time and resources, an appreciation event can be as simple as a reception at your office, or as elaborate as a dinner with a keynote speaker, or even entertainment with an open bar and hors’d oeuvres held at a premier location.   Customarily, some lawyers send tickets to sports events or other forms of entertainment; however, this misses the point.  “Face time” with people who are a source of business is invaluable to generating good will and encouraging them to continue to refer clients to you.

First, however, you need to create the list.  If you keep it in your head, you may forget some key person from a few years ago.  After all, you have a lot on your mind.

A good practice is to sit down with your partners/staff and review where new business came from and who referred it.  Go back a few years and look at your past and present client list.  Trace it back to how it came to you and list the source.  Then have addresses and emails assigned.  The list can serve other purposes, such as mailings when you add a partner, promote an associate or announce winning a settlement or trial.  It can even be used to just keep in touch over the holidays.

Once you have made the commitment to create a list, you can review it and determine the level of the appreciation event you should undertake.  If it is a few names, hold a reception at your office or an appropriate off-site location.  If the list is long, consider a more elaborate event.

In any case, your event should include “face time” with those who did you a favor.  Public relations is most effective with people  on a one-on-one basis.  It also is the hardest to achieve.

Jim Grandone is owner of Grandone Media Strategies Link to him at

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