Weekly Rainmaker Activity 11/24/09: Give thanks for referrals

It is, perhaps, a bit of a cliché to focus on gratitude during the United States Thanksgiving week.
  Nonetheless, the theme is so important to business development that, cliché or no, that’s the focus for this week’s Weekly Rainmaker Activity.

I’ll begin today’s lesson with a story.  After I’d been in practice for several years, I referred an acquaintance to a lawyer who was a family friend — let’s call him Keith.  I wasn’t expecting anything more than a quick “thanks for the referral” and a good representation if my acquaintance hired Keith — the most I’d received for other referrals I’d previously made to other lawyers.  Instead, I received a “thank you” email, a handwritten note, and (on 9/12/01, a date when anything kind was a welcome distraction) a lovely gift basket.  And periodically over the next few months, when Keith and I crossed paths, he would mention something about my acquaintance’s matter — nothing invasive, of course, but an aside that the matter was proceeding, that he enjoyed working with my acquaintance, and so on.

When the matter concluded, Keith sent me another note to let me know it had ended and that he appreciated the opportunity to work with my acquaintance.  Meanwhile, my acquaintance let me know what a terrific lawyer Keith was and how much she appreciated being in his capable hands.  I felt fantastic about that referral!  Not because of the multiple forms of “thank you” that I received — though I certainly did appreciate them — but because the matter was handled so skillfully.  I’ve referred other matters to Keith over the years, and every single time, the response has been similar.  I absolutely love referring people to him!

A story for contrast.  About the same time, a member of my family (also a lawyer) referred a matter to someone I knew very well professionally.  My family member (let’s call him John) didn’t receive any direct thank you, though the lawyer to whom he’d referred the matter (whom we’ll call Lawyer X) asked me to tell him thank you.  No big deal, but it struck me as peculiar, especially in view of the multiple forms of thanks that I’d received for my referral.

What came next was astonishing to me.  Lawyer X not only didn’t let John know how things were going, but he also didn’t pull out any stops to take good care of the client who’d been referred to him.  Yes, the representation was competent, but nothing more.  When John checked in with the person he’d referred (who was, in fact, his client referred out because of a conflict), he learned that the client felt unnoticed, as if he had to make a lot of noise before getting Lawyer X’s attention.

And during the course of the representation, a few things even slipped through the cracks.  Nothing big, as far as I know, but a few promises went unmet, and some pieces of the matter didn’t happen in a timely manner.  All of this information went back to John, who was appalled.  He felt that he had made a bad referral that not only had the potential to harm his client but also to harm his client relationship.  Within a few months, John had vowed never to make another referral to that lawyer.  And, indeed, he never did.  My guess is that Lawyer X has no idea, to this day, how poorly John (and his client) felt the referral went.

These two stories go beyond expressing gratitude for referrals and into client service, but let’s focus for today on how to thank someone for a referral.  Sending an immediate thank you, followed by another thanks (perhaps with a gift), and yet another with a larger (but still appropriate) gift sends a clear message of gratitude.  Equally importantly, keeping the referral source updated on the matter, while protecting your new client’s privacy, allows the referral source to be confident that the matter is being handled well.

Today’s assignment: create your own plan to thank those who send you referrals and to continue the flow of information.

1 reply
  1. Michelle Alford
    Michelle Alford says:

    It’s amazing to me how many people fail to simply say thank you. That alone may cause someone to choose to refer the next client to someone else.

    Giving a referral requires a lot of trust in that other lawyer, because a referral that goes badly could cause bad feelings towards the person who gave it–which is especially bad if this is someone who may use your services at some point in the future. Lawyers need to keep this in mind and demonstrate their appreciation of that trust.

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