Strategies & Tactics to Generate a Flood of Referrals by Ken Hardison | Personal Injury Lawyers Marketing and Management Association

Editor’s Note: This blog post was part of the January 2016 Insiders’ Journal, one of the benefits given to our PILMMA members. If you’re interested in getting your own PILMMA membership for access to content like this and much more, visit us here.

I want to focus on one overall strategy: to get referrals. Within that strategy, there are going to be 15 different ways you can go about doing this. This is not the “be all, end all,” but this is what I see as the top 15 ways to get referrals. So, let’s get started.

Here is what I call the referral rule: Twenty percent of the people are going to refer business to you even if you don’t ask them, even if you don’t do a thing. Then you have the 20 percent of people, I don’t care what you do, they will never refer you clients. They just are not “referrers.” They stay to themselves. They’re introverts. They don’t let anybody even know that they have even seen a lawyer. Whatever the reason, they’re just never going to refer you anybody no matter how much of a bang-up job for them. You can just forget it.

The 60% You Need To Do Something About

What we’re going to be focusing on today is the 60 percent of people who probably would refer business to you if you create a referral system and educate them on how to refer you. Believe it or not, most people just don’t know how and that is something we just take for granted.

Here is the first thing I am sure to tell lawyers: you’ve got to be referable. The key test is this: If you’re a criminal lawyer and your daddy got a DWI, would you refer him to your firm? Would you hand over your father’s case to the lawyer in your firm who handles the DWI cases? What about domestic law? If your best friend was getting a divorce, would you refer them to your associate or would you refer them to yourself? If your answer is “no,” then you’re not referable. Number one, you’ve got to be referable.

Number two is you’ve got to give good client service. Even if you’re the best lawyer in the world but you give horrible client service, people are not going to want to refer you. They just aren’t. Can you blame them?

I’ve seen this before. I took my mom to see this one doctor. Everyone told me that she was a great doctor. We had to wait two hours to be seen. Once we did see the doctor, she had very gruff personality and very little bedside manner. Well, I’m not taking my mom to that doctor again and I would never refer the people I care about to this doctor either. You don’t want people going around saying, “He/she is a great lawyer, but I would never refer you to them because they have terrible client service.”

So again: Number one, you’ve got to be really good at what you do and number two, you’ve got to give great client service. If you do these two things, then you’re what I call referable.

Trusted Legal Advisor

When it comes to referrals, the client relationship is everything. It’s not just a one-night stand. What you want to become is their trusted legal advisor. What you really want is a long-lasting, caring relationship. You want a long courtship. You want to be married to these people. When they have a legal problem or any of their family or friends have a legal problem, even if it the problem they have does not fall under your area of practice, you want to be the one who they call and either ask for advice or ask for a referral to somebody else. To get referrals, you’ve got to give referrals to other lawyers. That’s just the bottom line. It’s a two-way street and one of the most important relationships you can develop when it comes to your professional career.

Listening is very important. Not just listening, but actually hearing what your client wants and expects. I see lawyers who talk down to clients and they just tell them the way it should be, but they’re not really listening to really what their client wants. When a client walks into your office you need to really take in what they are saying. You need to be realistic with them and honest about what to expect, but let them know that they have been heard.

You just might be surprised. Sometimes I’ve had clients who just want to be heard. Even if you give them the best deal in the world, they just want to have their day in court and you’ve got to give them that. That’s what they want. As long as they’ll pay you, give it to them. The key is to listen and hear what they really want.

It’s Not Just About You

The firm may have your name on its front doors, but it’s not just about you. You need to instill in everyone who works for you that referral mindset. It’s well-known that clients prefer to meet you through word of mouth above any other way, so make it a goal that this will be your primary way of obtaining referrals.

You can spend all the money in the world on marketing, but if you’re not getting referrals, you’re not doing a good job because referrals are the most cost-effective way to get new clients. We all know that. You don’t have to sell yourself to them. They come to you. They already trust you. They know you. They like you. You don’t have to worry about them second guessing you. They’re the easiest people to convert to new clients when they call in, and I find they’re the easiest people to deal with.

When somebody hires you, you need to look at the lifetime value of a client. It’s the potential clients they can introduce you to over a lifetime. I wrote a book on this. If you haven’t got it, and if you want it, you can go to a website called and I’ll send it to you free. You must have an attitude of under promise and over deliver.

I say this for several reasons. The number one reason is if you try to oversell yourself and promise too much, their expectations are way too high and you’re going to disappoint them. The deal is if you under promise to begin with, then if it goes bad, the other expectations have still been met. But if you over deliver and it goes like you would want it to or even better, whether it be a DWI, a divorce case, a will, etc., then they’re going to be overjoyed and it makes you actually look better. Instead of trying to promise them the moon, I always try to under promise.

I’ve done personal injury work for the past 20 years and I never would tell somebody what I could get them. Other lawyers would, but it was always my position that how can they make a promise like that to a client when we don’t know the client’s medical outcome. None of us have a crystal ball. I know I don’t, so there’s no way I can make a client a guarantee like that.

I used to do DWIs. I think I can win the case, but it depends. Something might come out that I don’t know or a judge might have a bad day and let this evidence in when I know in five prior cases, he’s not let it in and we were able to get the case dismissed. You see what I’m saying? You want to under promise and always over deliver.

Referral Mindset

You need to start looking for ways and opportunities to ask for referrals right from the beginning. I’m going to share with you some of the ways that I’ve done this over the past 30 years.

Having a referral mindset means that you accept that the best way to build your business is generating referrals. It’s less expensive, the clients are easier to convert, and they’re better cases. I’ve never won a $1 million case off TV, but I’ve gotten a good number of them from referrals from old clients and other lawyers.

Remember this: The way you treat your employees is the way that they’re going to treat your clients. If you’re somebody who cusses, fusses, and raises cane with your employees and you are not loyal or show them any appreciation, then they’re probably going to treat your clients the same way.

You want them to exceed your clients’ expectations. Do what you say you’re going to do. Tell the truth, even if it’s bad. These are the types of action items that you want to be doing. You want to treat your employees right. You want to exceed your clients’ expectations. Tell them the truth and do what you say you’re going to do.

Are you referable? Do you give good client service? Do you exceed client’s expectations? If you can’t do all that, then you’re probably not going to get a lot of referrals.  You’ve got to go back to those foundational issues before you ever even start trying to institute these 15 tactics that I’m getting ready to share with you.

Here are the 7 strategies to get referrals now that we’ve got all the foundational rules covered:

  1. Ask clients
  2. Remind people
  3. Stay in touch with newsletters
  4. Always send handwritten ‘Thank You’ notes
  5. Fall in love with your clients
  6. Position yourself as the expert
  7. Staff contests

I’m going to go through each one of these briefly.

Pick one or two at a time and get really good at them before you move onto the others. Once you have these down and they are working for you, then pick a couple more. By the end of the year, you will have an entire arsenal of referral tactics to rely on. You’re going to see your referrals double or triple – probably quadruple – in 18 months. I promise you. But the deal is, like anything else, if you just sit around, think about it and don’t do anything, nothing is going to happen because nothing happens until you take action.

Ask for Referrals

Let’s talk about the first one, which makes sense. It’s no big secret. You just ask them. I like to ask them right at the beginning of the case. I let them know right up front because some people think, especially if you’re hard to get up with or you had to make appointment wait two weeks and they think, “He’s so busy. He doesn’t want any referrals.”

I let them know right up front that if there is anybody they know that needs legal services that we offer, you would be happy to meet with them. I send a letter also at the beginning saying we’re handling your divorce case but I also want you to know that we do traffic tickets and personal injury cases also. We’re here to help you. We want to be your trusted legal advisor.

You’re conditioning them from day one that you want referrals because some people may not realize that you even want them. You have to ask them right up front.

Remind Them

One thing that I always do while I am representing a client, is I put these stickers on the back of any time I have something to mail to the client, I put a sticker right on the back of the envelope and the sticker says, “We Appreciate Referrals.” I want to keep indoctrinating them that I like referrals, that I want referrals and that I would happily accept a referral from them.

This is something that costs pennies. You can buy these in rolls. Like I said, they’re just little stickers. We stick them on the back of every piece of mail that goes to a client while we’re handling their case.

We also put this simple statement at the bottom of every letter we send out: “A referral is the greatest compliment you could ever give us. If you know someone in need of our services, we welcome the opportunity to help.” It’s just another subliminal way of telling people that you want referrals. You’ve got to keep reminding them.


Newsletters can really work in your favor when it comes to referrals.  In the newsletters, we have a special section set aside to thank clients for their referrals. The headline reads, “Thank you. A referral from a former client is the greatest complement our firm can receive. We are grateful for every referral.” Below that headline, we include a list of people who have recently referred a friend or family member to our firm.” You must get their permission and not everybody will let us, but we make the effort in every newsletter.

Handwritten ‘Thank You’ Cards

Always send personal handwritten cards. I see people who send greeting cards or just send a pre-printed ‘Thank You’ card. That’s better than not doing anything at all, but if you’ll take the time to write up two simple sentences like, “Thank you for referring John Doe. I appreciate your confidence in our firm and we’ll do everything we can to help him and take care of him and his family (or his case or whatever the specifics might be). We appreciate your referrals and keep them coming.” Then sign it personally.

That means more to a person that the gifts do, really, because they know you’re busy and if you can take time to do that, they know you really, really appreciate their referral.

Here’s what’s going to happen. I’ve had this happen to me and you’ve probably had it happen to you. You send a fellow attorney a case or you send someone like your hairdresser or your barber two or three people and then they never tell you ‘thank you’ or never acknowledge your referral. Then hell, I’m going to quit sending them referrals because I think they don’t appreciate it. It’s always good to handwrite a note and let them know you really appreciate it.

Fall in Love with your Clients

This is where I see lawyers really dropping the ball. They fall in love with their practice. They get successful and they fall in love with their practice and they forget about their clients. You need to fall in love with your clients. You need to be their preeminent lawyer, which means that everything you do, you do for the benefit of your clients. When you do this, you will get referrals, I promise you.

Remember, no matter how big your practice becomes, you’re never too big where you can’t fall on your face. Never forget that the clients are the ones who pay your bills – not you. Clients are the ones who write the checks, not you – so stay in love with your clients.

Position Yourself as The Expert

Here is one of my favorites: Position yourself as the expert by writing a book. I like this. It’s one of my favorite ones, because if you write a book, right at the beginning when we sign up somebody, we also give them a book and remind them that if they know any friends, family or co-workers who need a lawyers who does what we do, then please give them the book and tell them, “This is the lawyer that I used.”

That is all they have to do. They don’t have to tell anyone how great you are, if you do the book right. And it doesn’t have to be an epistle. The deal is my books are probably 35 to 50 pages and the way I craft the books where I actually sell myself without selling. I just tell them all the different pitfalls of hiring the wrong lawyer and in each book I include my “Seven Questions to Ask a Lawyer Before You Hire Them.” Of course, the questions are going to come back to where I’m the obvious choice.

By doing this, you make it easy for somebody to refer you. We give out these books at different stages along the case, give them multiple books and ask them to give them to people who need our services.

They’re not going to throw that away. It’s not like giving out a bunch of business cards to give to somebody. The business cards get thrown away. You’re not going to throw away a book because it’s got a higher perceived value. If the idea of writing a book seems overwhelming to you, then you can always have the book ghostwritten for you. A book is an excellent way to position yourself as the expert in your field. The book will do the selling for you.

Staff Contests

We do a quarterly or annual contest. You need to check with your local bar rules or your state bar, but we can’t pay non-lawyers for referrals. We have a contest for everyone in our firm and whoever gets the most referrals, wins a prize. We’re not paying them for a referral. We’re paying them for winning a contest. But you need to check with your local bar first.

What we’ve found and what I’ve seen happen when other lawyers do this, is their in-house referrals go up tremendously. I’m talking they go from four or five cases resulting from in-house referrals a year, to 90 cases a year.

You can do it quarterly. You can do annual contests and give away stuff like gift cards. We give away a week’s paid vacation and then a $500 gift card is second place. We do it annually but I think you could always do it quarterly and then do smaller prizes. That way, more people can win so they don’t give up if they see somebody ‘running away with it’ early on in the contest.

Again, once you have established your foundation of being referable, giving great client service and exceeding your client’s expectations, then it is time to move onto other tactics to bring referrals into your firm. And remember the key: don’t tackle the seven tactics all at once. Choose a couple and get those underway and become successful with those before you pick you next two and so on. Before you know it, you will have an endless resource of referrals.


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