Skip to Main Content
by Kaitlin Edleman | January 20, 2015


Lawyers exist to serve the needs of their clients. Clients are the lifeblood of every law firm. Regardless of size or prestige, without clients, a firm can’t survive. Many associates are often tasked with generating new business, and failure to do so could mean forfeited annual pay raises, decreased bonus opportunities, stalled promotion prospects and even job loss.

While some firms offer training on business development, many do not, and solo practitioners are on their own to figure it out. At a recent American Business Women’s Association event in New York City, Regina Bonolo, a business growth specialist, discussed tips for gently and effectively requesting referrals to gain new clients.

Give Referrals to Get Referrals

An unobtrusive way to receive a referral may simply be to give a current client a referral first. A referral from you could help the client generate business of its own, further demonstrating your value in addition to providing legal services. Identify clients who provide complementary services and connect them without exerting undue pressure. You are also permitted to refer clients to lawyers or non-legal professionals who may be able to address your clients other needs. Even if a business relationship doesn’t form as a result of your referrals, your clients will appreciate the thoughtful effort you made to make the referrals and may then refer you to colleagues in their industry who need help with similar legal issues.

If you can’t think of clients whose businesses may complement each other, you can also ask a client what type of referrals or customers it is seeking. Exerting the extra effort for your client will make the client want to do the same for you.  

Of course, be aware of attorney-client privilege and other ethical duties. It may also be wise to consult your firms’ policies regarding client confidentiality.     

Ask for Referrals

Although attorneys may not want to seem pushy or damage their relationships with their clients, the best way to receive a referral may be to ask for one. Following the successful completion of a deal, trial or settlement, attorneys can politely and gently ask their clients for referrals to other potential clients.

For example, after completing estate planning for a client, a trusts and estates attorney could send a follow-up email or letter saying, “I’m glad I could help you to complete your will, I hope you now have certainty about the future. I would love to help others achieve the same piece of mind, please let me know if you have friends, family members or colleagues that need estate planning services. I am interested in serving high-net-worth individuals who may have concerns about the tax ramifications of their wills or want to reduce friction within their families.”   

It is important to be very specific so that clients have a clear idea of the types of clients for whom you are looking.

Make the Most of Your Email Signature

In addition to providing your contact information, your email signature may provide an opportunity to seek referrals.

For those who wish to be subtle, one line describing all of the legal services you offer may remind those with whom you are emailing of friends, family members or colleagues that are in need of your services.

Those willing to take a bolder approach could include a line in their email signature specifically describing the clients that they are seeking. A family law attorney could include a line stating, “Know someone struggling with a divorce, custody or child-support issues? I can help.”

Stay Top of Mind, Tip of Tongue

Maintaining a client relationship is critical to not only ensure repeat business from clients, but also to receive referrals. Clients can’t refer you, if they aren’t thinking about you. An easy way to continue to cultivate a client relationship is by sending hand-written greeting cards. Rather than sending a Christmas, Hanukah or Kwanza card, consider sending a Thanksgiving or New Year’s Eve card. These less traditional holiday greeting cards are more likely to stand out since they are less commonly sent, and attorneys can avoid offending their clients’ religious or political sensibilities.

Additionally, sending small gifts such as Post-it® Notes, pens, iPad cases or water bottles branded with your firm logo will remind clients that you appreciate their business as well as remind them of the expert legal services that you provided every time they use your promotional gifts.

Above all, it is important that you provide high quality legal services to your existing clients and to treat them with respect. Clients who are unsatisfied with the legal work that you provided will never refer you.

Follow Vault on Twitter @VAULTLAW, Instagram @VaultCareers and Facebook 

Read More:

The Secrets of Successful Networking Revealed
American Business Women’s Association – New York City Chapter
American Bar Association Comment on Rule  7.2