Be A Referring Lawyer

Be A Referring Lawyer

Jim Vickaryous

An old friend invited me to dinner. We originally met on opposite sides of a case and found common cause as lawyers as it worked its way through the court. We had not seen each other for a long while. At dinner, I asked him how his practice was going. He told me very well. He remembered the day years before that he opened his own firm. He shared that he appreciated my words of encouragement to him. But he was most grateful for the case that I referred to him the day he opened his practice. He let me know that it was a complicated case, but the client was worth taking, and that he just recently, many years later, finished the case. He told me that the purpose of our dinner was to let me know how much it meant to him that I had thought to send him work the very day that he had opened his law firm. I told him that I didn’t think much of it at the time. A person called me for help, I could not help them, and I knew he would do a fine job. I also knew that I had no experience in that area of law and would not give the representation that this prospective client needed. I just wanted the person to get to a lawyer that knew how to help him and would fight hard. I told him that his client had a great choice and hired the best lawyer.

The role of a referring lawyer holds immense significance. The ability to connect clients with qualified professionals, acknowledge one’s limitations, and foster a network of trust and collaboration is an art that not only enhances individual legal practices, but contributes to the strength and integrity of the legal community as a whole. Let us review the various facets of being a referring lawyer, exploring the ethical considerations, the importance of specialization, the dynamics of fee arrangements, and the indispensable role of face-to-face relationships in building a successful legal network.

A fundamental responsibility of every lawyer is to serve the best interests of their clients. Recognizing that no single practitioner can master every legal nuance, referring lawyers play a crucial role in ensuring clients receive the most competent and specialized representation available. This duty to clients necessitates a keen understanding of one’s own strengths and limitations, prompting the judicious referral of cases outside the referring lawyer’s expertise.

Ethics lies at the core of the legal profession, and the process of referrals is no exception. Referring lawyers must exercise due diligence in selecting colleagues to whom they entrust their clients. It is imperative to refer cases only to those with proven ethical conduct and a track record of excellence. Transparency with clients regarding the referral process, including the reasons behind the decision, fosters trust and maintains the integrity of the referring lawyer.

In an era dominated by digital connectivity, it is essential to recognize that a lawyer’s network extends beyond the realms of social media. Face-to-face relationships form the bedrock of a successful legal network. While platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and X (formerly Twitter) may reflect a lawyer’s connections, true networks are built through personal interactions, seminars, bar association events, and mentoring programs. These personal connections are the catalysts for effective referrals and collaborations.

The legal landscape is diverse and intricate, with each practice area requiring a unique set of skills and knowledge. A referring lawyer’s ability to identify their own strengths and limitations enables them to make informed referrals, ensuring clients receive the specialized representation they deserve. Specialization not only enhances the quality of legal services but also contributes to the overall competence and reputation of the legal community.

Communication is key in the referral process. Referring lawyers must clearly convey to clients the reasons behind the referral, emphasizing the commitment to securing the best possible representation. Maintaining ongoing communication with clients even after the referral is crucial. This not only ensures client satisfaction, but also strengthens the referring lawyer’s relationship with the client, potentially leading to future referrals.

The issue of fees associated with referrals requires careful consideration. When a referring lawyer is not receiving a fee, they are not responsible for the matter, as they are not the client’s lawyer. However, when a co-counsel fee is involved, a referring lawyer becomes a co-counsel and shares responsibility for the client’s representation. Clear and well-defined written fee arrangements are essential in avoiding misunderstandings and ensuring a smooth collaboration between referring and receiving lawyers. Written agreements are also required by the ethics rules. Trust in the abilities of the lawyer receiving the referral and their commitment to thorough and diligent work is vital. The ethics rules on co-counseling between lawyers are too complicated for a brief discussion. But remember, the co-counseling relationship needs to be fully disclosed to the client and you are on the hook for representing the shared client, even if you are not doing most of the work.

It’s no secret that the most successful legal careers are built upon robust professional networks. These networks are not just a collection of online connections, rather they are living, breathing entities formed through personal relationships, trust, and shared professional values. Actively participating in bar associations, engaging in mentoring programs, and attending legal events are avenues through which referring lawyers can expand and strengthen their networks, creating a foundation for successful referrals and collaborations. Inviting a new friend out to lunch works well too.

Being a referring lawyer is an art that requires a delicate balance of ethical considerations, specialization, and effective communication. It is a responsibility born out of a commitment to client welfare, professional integrity, and the collective success of the legal community. As we navigate the complex legal landscape, let us remember that the strength of our profession lies not only in our individual abilities but in our ability to connect, collaborate, and refer with the utmost professionalism and dedication. You never know, but you might just make a lifelong friend by thinking of another lawyer when you come across a client that is not in your wheelhouse. Let’s all resolve to be referring lawyers.

Jim Vickaryous is the managing partner of the Vickaryous Law Firm in Lake Mary and represents the 18th Circuit on The Florida Bar Board of Governors.

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