What we expect when we refer a case

You have been receiving this monthly newsletter because you are currently a referring attorney or I hope you will become a referring attorney at some point in the future. Each month, I pass along something I have learned along the way of running my own firm for many years. I have explained what to look for in a referring attorney.
However, I have never addressed what we look for when we refer a potential case to a referring attorney. Over the years, there have been many cases where I felt that referring the client to another lawyer was the best way to serve my client’s interests. Perhaps I was naïve to think that other lawyers would handle referral cases in the same manner I treat my referring lawyers. However, I became frustrated at the way my clients were being treated when I sought to refer them to another lawyer. As a result, I developed written guidelines as to what my expectations were when I referred a case to another lawyer. These expectations are by no means difficult to fulfill. To me, they represent a minimum level of expectations. But, by writing them down and providing them to potential referring attorneys, they know what I expect in return for a referral. If they cannot abide by these simple requirements, I refer my cases elsewhere. Although they are discussed below, Click here for the list for your reference.

All clients referred to attorney or firm shall be contacted within 24 hours of the referral

I do not want to lose a potential case because the referring lawyer fails to contact my client upon the referral. Many years ago, I sought to refer out a medical malpractice case. The lawyer did not contact my client promptly and the client hired another lawyer. The case settled for seven figures and I never saw a dime because the lawyer I tried to refer the client to did not contact the client promptly. I vowed to never let that happen again.

Attorney or firm shall notify M, G & L that they either 1) contacted client and declined; 2) contacted client and made appointment; or 3) unable to contact. If unable to contact, M, G & L shall attempt to make sure such referral is not lost

This is a corollary of the first expectation. I don’t mind if the lawyer declines the case, but they need to let me know. If they schedule an appointment, let me know. If they can’t contact the potential referral, let me know. All of these expectations ensure that the potential referral is addressed immediately.

If the client is declined, attorney or firm shall send written correspondence (letter or e-mail) stating the attorney or firm as well as M, G & L decline to pursue the case and a copy of such correspondence shall be sent to M, G & L

Once again, I don’t mind if a lawyer declines a case. But, they must send an actual decline letter to the potential referral. We all know that even a phone call can create an attorney client relationship and disengagement letters are essential. Not only do I want the referring lawyer to send a decline letter, I want them to include my firm name as well so that the client doesn’t think we represent them. Of course, that letter is my proof of the disengagement, so a copy must be provided to me.

If the referral is accepted, the attorney or firm shall enter into a retainer agreement with the client which complies with the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility. A retainer substantially similar to the attached is acceptable. M, G & L must approve any retainer agreement used by attorney or firm for clients referred

I have previously discussed that the division of fees and the referral relationship must be included in the retainer agreement and signed by the client. So there is no confusion, I provide an example of our contract, which does satisfy the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility. They can use their own, but I must approve the contract so the referral relationship is documented and obtains client consent.

The attorney or firm shall provide a copy of their malpractice insurance to M, G & L

Although I carry my own malpractice insurance, I require any referring attorney to likewise carry malpractice insurance. Asking for a copy is not an invasion of their privacy or unduly intrusive. Just fax me a copy for my records.

When referring a client, M, G & L expects the attorney or firm to keep in communication with the client. The client may, but should not have to contact M, G & L for status on their case

When I refer a case, I expect the firm to handle the case. I don’t want the client calling me complaining that they don’t know what is happening in their case.

A copy of the filed complaint shall be provided to M, G & L upon filing

I don’t ask for updates on a case. All I want is a copy of the filed complaint. That way, I can mark the statute of limitations complete on my file and also it allows me to track it electronically since most courts have electronic dockets.

If the client is referred to attorney or firm because M, G & L have been unable to settle the case, i.e for litigation, the complaint will be filed within 30 days of the referral

If I have tried to settle the case and I refer it out for litigation, I expect the case will be filed within 30 days. The case doesn’t get any better or worse. Please don’t wait until the eve of the SOL to file the case if I have been unable to settle it.

The referring attorney shall contact M, G & L before finalizing the settlement to confirm expenses and liens

If I have expenses on the file, even though I provide them when I make the referral, I always want the referring lawyer to confirm my expenses so I get them back. There are times we incur additional expenses after the referral. Also, although I provide any liens, I expect the referring lawyer to double check with me regarding liens before settling a case. Once again, sometimes liens come in after we have made the referral.

Upon settlement, a copy of a Settlement Sheet signed by the client approving of the distribution of the settlement shall accompany the referral check. The Settlement Sheet shall reflect attorney fees, expenses, liens and net to client

Finally, send me a copy of the settlement sheet signed by the client showing all the disbursements. I want this for my records. It confirms the liens were paid, the expenses were reimbursed and most importantly, the amount of the attorney fees, since I am receiving 1/3 of them.
That’s it. My expectations for referring lawyers. If a lawyer feels they are too burdensome, I will find a lawyer who is willing to meet them. I abide by these expectations and want others to do as well. In fact, we go beyond these expectations. Our intake coordinator contacts referrals immediately, not within 24 hours. We provide quarterly updates on all attorney referrals and always provide great client service. Thanks for your past and future referrals. If we ever fail to live up to the expectations we have set for ourselves, please let me know immediately.