The Nuclear Option: Why It’s Dangerous to Rely Exclusively on Other Lawyers for Referrals

Lawyers tend to congregate together.  This is as much a fact of lawyer life, as it is a fact of professional life.  Once you’re embedded in a career, you start to develop friends who do the same work that you do, and you generally prefer quality hang with colleagues, since you speak the same language — Latin, in the case of the attorney.  In many ways, this is a completely defensible approach — unless it consumes the work life of a professional, at which point: let me introduce you to the lawyer who only networks with other lawyers!

There are ways to talk yourself into this arrangement, for sure:

  • Our practice areas are complementary.
  • I need this for my professional development.
  • For the love of God, he knows what sua sponte means!?!?

And, that’s all fine .  . to a point.  But, when you start to rely on other lawyers exclusively (or close to exclusively) for referrals, then you’re playing the most dangerous game.

You see, lawyers can execute what I call ‘the nuclear option’ — meaning that they can always co-opt a potential referral for themselves.  Think about it: If a plumber has a potential referral of a legal case for you, they literally (not figuratively) cannot take on that client.  They’re prohibited from finalizing an estate plan without a law license; and so, they have to find a lawyer for that lead, whether it’s you, or someone else.  Not so for the lawyer.  Even if a lawyer generally practices in another area of law, that attorney can take the lead that would have been yours, for his own, at any point before he delivers it.  If he does so, instead of referring out the case, he’s exercised ‘the nuclear option’ (so far as you’re concerned), and kept it for himself.  And, therein lies the danger of relying too heavily on other lawyers as referral sources.  And, it’s worse the more referrals of a certain type you acquire from another attorney.  If another lawyer sent you 12 divorce cases last fiscal year, why couldn’t she just start practicing divorce law herself, or hire someone to take those cases, so she gets a greater percentage of the revenue?  And then, what if that lawyer’s referrals represent 20% of your business over the course a year?  You’ve just been cut off at the knees.  Your electrician ain’t gonna do you like that.  Mostly because he can’t.

And as more and more lawyers enter the marketplace, and as clients willing to pay traditional law firm rates continue to dwindle, competition will only become starker, and more leads will stay in-house.

If there was ever a time to diversify your referral marketing palette, it’s now.

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If you want help spreading the word, we can help.

The Wyoming State Bar offers free law practice management consulting services through Red Cave Law Firm Consulting.  To request a consult, visit the Wyoming State Bar’s law practice management page, and start running your law firm like a business.

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