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Practice Management

What if you didn’t have to refer out that case?

Case referrals can be a blessing or a curse. Getting a new case referred your way based on your expertise is an easy win – at least from a business development standpoint. But if a client comes to you with a matter that falls beyond your usual practice area, you will probably have to refer them to someone else. These referrals represent a missed opportunity to expand your list of clients and ultimately increase your profitability.

From a purely financial perspective, it’s better to receive than to give. So, how can you avoid referring out so many cases? First analyze why you’re referring cases in the first place. Then look for ways to retain them.

Why cases get referred

Many successful lawyers specialize in just a few specific practice areas. This allows them to perform with great efficiency, while also building their reputation for success. Taking on a matter beyond their working knowledge requires more time and effort to get right, which ends up costing more and frankly, carrying more risk.

Since maintaining client satisfaction is such an important part of every lawyer’s reputation, the usual course of action is to refer any outlying case to another firm that can more adequately handle it. The client gets the legal help they need, while attorneys get to focus on cases in their own lanes.

This approach works well if you have a sustainable volume of applicable cases. The problem comes when you wind up limiting your business potential by “playing it safe.” You could easily find yourself nudged out of your chosen field by another firm that can cover multiple areas of practice and refer fewer clients out. Growing your practical know-how will help ensure the financial well-being of your practice for years to come.

Knowledge is power

The advantages of having multiple proficiencies are relatively straightforward. Lawyers and firms with a wide range of expertise can handle more legal matters and serve more clients.

Gaining new proficiencies allows you to cast a wider net and take advantage of more opportunities as they present themselves. These could include new clients approaching your firm with different types of matters, returning clients who have new legal needs, or referrals from other firms. No matter where these opportunities come from, having a greater working knowledge will help you refer fewer clients out to other attorneys.

How to expand your legal expertise

There are three practical ways to bolster your knowledge base and retain more clients:

  1. Add new matter experts to your team
  2. Study and research new types of legal matters yourself
  3. Adopt new legal tools that can guide you

Hiring a new attorney who specializes in the area that you are looking to serve is an obvious way to expand the scope of your practice, but this may not always be feasible. You should first perform a cost/benefit analysis by weighing the cost of a new team member against the potential for business gain to determine if this option would be financially sound.

Next you can check out our Talent Management Playbook to find more tips and strategies for onboarding your new associate. If you aren’t interested in adding to your operation, you should instead search for effective ways to increase your own proficiency in new matters.

The traditional approach is to research new matters yourself. The trick here is to target a specific topic so that you do not become overwhelmed or waste valuable time. Before you begin, be sure to consider how the legal needs of your clients may be changing. Access local market research or conduct your own surveys to get an idea of what the biggest business opportunity may be and consider studying that topic.

If you identify a growing legal need that is closely related to your current knowledgebase, you can confidently dive-in knowing that there will be a relatively shallow learning-curve. This way you can focus your studies and expand your capabilities quickly and easily.

If you are looking for a less involved way to avoid giving away referrals, consider using a new tool to do the work for you. There are a variety of software applications that can make quick work of most legal matters and these types of solutions allow you to immediately begin serving new clients.

You can expand your understanding of new matters through simple repetition as they guide you through each process with clear step-by-step instructions. To get a better idea of how these types of software could help you, take an online tour or learn more about Practical Law features.

Refer yourself

Once you have expanded your legal expertise, make sure to tell people about it! Reach out to other local lawyers and let them know you can help clients in this new area. Update your website and social media channels to reflect your new capabilities, and follow-up with clients you may have referred in the past to see if their needs have been met.

Expanding the capabilities of your practice reduces the loss of potential revenue to referrals. It helps you adapt to the changing needs of your current base and potentially gain new clients. Simply put, anything you can do to grow your legal expertise and prevent unnecessary referrals is worth your time and investment.

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