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Are You Referable?

As I sat in the waiting room of a successful personal injury attorney, I was struck by what was missing.  On the walls were tasteful (some might even say classy) paintings.  Each one was signed and numbered by the artist. They were a nice touch and a departure from the usual press clippings and brag articles you find adorning the walls of most trial lawyers.

The receptionist was immaculately groomed and conservatively dressed. The furniture was clean and comfortable with a relaxed living room feel.

The location of the office—a class “A” building in the good section of a lower income neighborhood—struck me as an unusual choice.  Most of the lawyers in town were near the courthouse.  Jim Jenkins selected a high-traffic shopping district for his office location.  It was a place everyone could easily find.

When I met Jim, I noticed his clothing and demeanor seemed consistent with everything else in his law firm. Jim was smart but used everyday language. He built his personal injury practice almost exclusively by referral.  There were no billboards around town with his photo. His face was not plastered on the side of a bus. He spent no money on television or radio advertising and he didn’t even have a website. Yet everyone in town knew him and respected him as a fantastic trial lawyer.

How did this average lawyer (by his own admission) who graduated from an average law school, develop a law firm that routinely, year after year, netted over seven figures in personal injury settlements and judgments?

He focused on making himself “referable.” And he used some highly effective, ethical techniques that make him the logical choice for legal advice for the people in his community.

Let’s look at how Jim, and the hundreds of lawyers like him, become magnets for referrals.

How To Become More Referable

There are three elements necessary for a client to pass your name along to another person as a potential client. These elements make you referable. If you want to receive more referrals people must:

Know you
Like you
Trust You

Being Known and Being Remembered

The first quality of a referable lawyer is visibility.  This means that people know who you are, they know what you do, and they know how to describe what you do.

Obviously your clients and your former clients know who you are, but you want to constantly remind them.  They must remember what makes you different from everyone else who does what you do.  They must remember the benefits to working with you. And they must be able to describe these things specifically to others.

To make sure people can accurately describe who you are, how you help people, and what makes you different, you have to give them some examples of your work.  Give them a story to tell.  This not only allows the referring party to understand the type of person you can help, and specifically, what you can do, it also helps them describe how you can potentially help others.


The second quality of a referable lawyer is likability.  People are not going to refer others to you if they don’t like you.  It is a pretty rare occasion when someone says to a friend, “This guy is a real jerk, but you must hire him immediately.”

Don’t be phony.  Be yourself. Be a regular person.

Match your language to your potential client base. Don’t use twenty words when three or four will do. Do not try to impress your client with your expansive vocabulary or your knowledge of legal terms. Speak with them using professional yet easy to understand language. Always make sure you balance their understanding with respect for their intelligence. Don’t talk down to people.

Be courteous. Common courtesy is not all that common. Here’s a refresher in three simple steps:

First whenever you are meeting someone, whether it’s a formal appointment or an informal appointment, show up on time. Your respect for someone’s time shapes their perception of your integrity. If you show up thirty minutes late for a meeting with me, it shows you have no respect for me. If you don’t respect me, I certainly will not like you.

Second, be positive. Speak positively about life in general.  Nobody wants to be around someone who is full of negative energy. Look for positive qualities in others. People do not send their friends, relatives or clients to meet with negative people.

Finally and most importantly of all, take pride in your appearance. Be clean, well groomed and appropriately dressed.  If you are not proud enough of yourself to be clean and well dressed (not expensively dressed but appropriately dressed),   people will not be proud enough of you to recommend you to others. You should always meet your clients wearing professional attire.

Those are the three elements of likability: 1) Show up and be on time, 2) have a positive attitude, and 3) Take pride in your appearance.

Establishing Trust 

The final quality of the referable lawyer is trust. Trust is made up of two components: credibility and believability.

When it comes to your credibility, honesty and integrity are of the utmost importance. Do not cut corners or try to embellish the facts to look good. Review your website and all of your biographical profiles. Make sure all information is accurate and complete. There is no room for even the slightest exaggeration.

Believability begins with how you conduct a conversation with the client. Listen carefully and respond to him realistically. It is your job to discuss alternative approaches to the client’s situation in a non-judgmental way. If you have seen this situation before, say so. If most of the time, it doesn’t end well, you must be direct with him and give him an honest assessment.

Jim Jenkins has mastered the art of being referable but he didn’t do it overnight. Put these referral-driving habits into practice now and you will reap the rewards throughout your career. If you want to build a law firm that does business “by referral only” you must be worthy of the referrals you would like to receive.  While many of these ideas may seem like commonsense, it is their consistent application that leads to results.

David V. Lorenzo

David V. Lorenzo is the Chairman and Founder of Rainmaker Lawyer Consulting. He and his team help attorneys “make a great living and live a great life.” If you’d like a FREE CD from Dave, titled: The Five Secrets to Making a Great Living and Living a Great Life as a Lawyer, visit: or call 888.692.5531

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Filed Under: Featured StoriesPersonal Development


About the Author: David V. Lorenzo is the Chairman and Founder of Rainmaker Lawyer Consulting. He and his team help attorneys “make a great living and live a great life.” If you’d like a FREE CD from Dave, titled: The Five Secrets to Making a Great Living and Living a Great Life as a Lawyer, visit: or call 888.692.5531

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