Referring cases to other lawyers

I don’t handle that type of case, but you should call “_____”

What to look for when referring a client/case

We all get calls from clients who ask if we handle cases in areas outside our expertise. This article will address things you should keep in mind when making a referral to another lawyer.

Don’t accept a case in an unfamiliar area of law

The law is so specialized these days, it is impossible to handle every client who calls you. Know when to decline a case and refer it to a colleague who does handle that area of law. To accept a case outside of your comfort zone is asking for problems. First, it is easy to make a mistake handling an unfamiliar area of the law. At best, it will make you look bad, at worst, it may end up being a malpractice claim. Second, handling a matter which you know nothing about will end up being a source of stress. You will worry more and work harder on a case which you are unprepared to handle. I am not advocating limiting your practice, but be careful about the matters you accept. You may handle million dollar negotiations every day, but does that mean you know how to do a real estate closing on your parents’ home?

Make your referrals count

Let’s face it, the client called you for a reason. Even if it is a case which you do not handle but you know someone who does, you want the client to be pleased. If you refer a client to a lawyer and the client has complaints about that lawyer, it will reflect poorly on you. Develop a list of lawyers in different practice areas who are reliable and competent. There are many lawyers in all different specialty areas. You should be able to find someone you can recommend. If the lawyer you refer clients to reflects poorly on you, find a new referring attorney.

Referral fees

It is standard for a contingent fee lawyer to pay the referring lawyer a fee based on the recovery. But what about other areas of the law? Do bankruptcy or divorce lawyers pay a referring lawyer a fee? In my experience, the answer is sometimes. I do not refer general practice matters to lawyers because they send me a portion of the fee. I refer matters to lawyers who refer me injury cases. If someone refers me a personal injury or workers’ comp case, they will be tops on my list to refer a client in their area of expertise.

There is something else you must keep in mind if you are paying a referring lawyer a portion of your fee. The Rules of Professional Conduct require you to disclose that you are paying a referral fee as well as have the client consent. Some clients will feel that they are paying too much because the referring attorney is taking a cut from the fee charged. The public already thinks lawyers are greedy: don’t give them more reason to think so.

Of course, there is a difference between paying a referring lawyer a portion of the fee and sending a gift as a thank you for a referral. The Rules of Professional Conduct do not prohibit sending something of value for a referral. This is true even of non-attorneys, so long as the gift of appreciation is not in exchange for the referral.

Contingent fee referrals

There are a lot of personal injury/workers’ compensation/disability lawyers out there. Many of them are very good. Of course, I want you to refer those cases to McCready Law. But, here are a few things to keep in mind regarding all contingent referrals.

Make sure the referring attorney calls the potential client promptly. Don’t lose the potential client because of a slow follow up. Whether it is a large case or small case, don’t lose it because the referring attorney failed to contact the client promptly.

Second, as mentioned above, any fee-splitting agreement must be in writing and with client consent. If you refer a client to a lawyer where you will be receiving a portion of the fee, make sure that lawyer gets written consent from the client. If the referring lawyer does not provide you a copy of the retainer agreement, ask for a copy.

There is another reason you should want a copy of the retainer agreement. Not all referring lawyers follow through when the case is resolved. There are personal injury lawyers who try to stiff the referring lawyer on a referral fee. Surprised? Check out the following appellate decisions. Episcope; DeLapaz; Friedman. Why would anyone refer a case to one of these firms?

Knowing when to make a referral, knowing who to refer your client to and how you handle the referral are all important pieces to a successful law practice.