How Do Attorney Referrals Work? - Sara Williams ESQ

How Do Attorney Referrals Work?

June 5, 2021

As an ethical rule, a lawyer or law firm is ethically bound to accept every case or client. But there are instances when an attorney can choose not to handle a case or refer it. One of such instances is when the client fails to follow the legal advice of the attorney.

It is not unusual for lawyers to refer existing and potential clients. This is why the Alabama State Bar and others of its kind run a Lawyer Referral Service. The association also runs a Volunteer Lawyers Program for people who need legal assistance but don’t know where to start. 

Lawyer referral programs are a good way to promote cohesion within the legal community and ensure client satisfaction. To find more about attorney referrals, contact Sarah Williams, a Birmingham-based law practice. But first, let’s look at how an attorney referral service works. 

What Is a Referral in Law?

Female lawyer looking over paper work

A referral is an act of officially sending someone to a person or authority qualified to deal with them. In law, bar associations maintain a lawyer referral service. Bar association referral is a network that connects people with legal issues with lawyers based on experience.

When a potential client contacts an attorney referral network, they get directed to a lawyer with the experience they need. It means that people who need a civil lawyer get one, vice-versa for criminal cases. In summary, state and local bar associations connect attorneys with experience with those in need of their expertise. 

However, it is noteworthy to note that referrals in law have gone beyond bar associations. It is common practice for attorney-client matching services (referral specialists) to connect people and lawyers online. Here, clients for referrals may get more than one law firm. 

Factors like geographical location and practice area are some of the basics of referral. Furthermore, prospective clients can get a list of attorneys and pick the one they want. This way, lawyers avoid getting a bad referral and client complaints, and there won’t be allegations of referral malpractice. 

What Is the Function of a Lawyer Referral Service?

According to the American Bar Association, typical attorney referrals have been existing for more than 5O years. It began as a response for middle-income people to get assistance in obtaining sound legal counsel. Today, it is a source for people who can afford attorney fees to get attorneys with ample experience. 

In essence, a lawyers referral service has two main functions: 

  1. They help provide answers for people with legal questions. They assist them in determining if their case is of a legal nature. Lawyers achieve this by screening inquiries and referring the clients to other service agencies when necessary. 

Suppose a person suffers injuries in an auto accident. They can consult a referral network to know the type of lawyer to get. During the initial consultation, they can find out if they have a valid claim. This gives the person the opportunity to decide whether to go with a particular lawyer or another. 

  1. Aside from legal services, a referral service provides clients with an unbiased referral to an attorney. It does away with negligent referral and sends people to those who understand their legal matter. In law practice, people have come to equate the functions of a referral program with consumer-oriented assistance. They expect consumer protection and satisfaction and the program’s loyalty to lie with the client and secondary to the attorney. 

How Do Attorney Referrals Work?

There are two ways attorney referrals play out. An attorney can get referrals through their colleagues or using their state bar association referral service. 

How Does the State Bar Association Referral Service Work? 

Lawyers looking over paper work for a case

For a lawyer to be a member of their state referral program, they must be a competent attorney licensed to practice in the state. Additionally, the legal practitioner must have a good standing in the bar. In Alabama, the lawyer must have a liability insurance coverage of not less than $100,000/$300,000 to be a part of the service. 

When a prospective client contacts the network for help, the Lawyer Referral & Information Service personnel gathers basic information from the person. Next, they check the referral list and assign the client to a lawyer with the experience needed. 

It means that if it is a wrongful death case, the referral service rep will refer the case to an auto accident attorney. The lawyer must practice in the county where the client lives. The representative will then contact the lawyer by phone or email. 

The representative will provide the client’s information. Also, the rep will notify the attorney on whether or not they can contact the potential client directly. If the lawyer is agreeable, they set up a client meeting. 

Lawyers are allowed to charge a token fee for the initial consultation. In Alabama, lawyers who are part of the referral service can charge not more than $50 for an initial 30-minute consultation. The lawyer is at liberty to waive the fee and offer a free case review if that is their normal practice. 

If the work continues beyond the initial consultation, the lawyer can create a fee agreement. For personal injury claims, for instance, lawyers work on a contingency fee basis. Thus, they can adopt this payment method. Having an agreement is a sign of commitment and binds the lawyer to client confidentiality. 

How Do Lawyers Referral Work? 

Attorneys who are not part of a referral network often refer clients among themselves. To do this, they create an attorney referral agreement among themselves. While those who do this have the best intentions, issues often arise, especially in terms of a referral fee agreement. 

To this end, when entering an attorney referral agreement, do the following: 

  • Make Expectations Clear: Clearly state the role of each attorney in the agreement. It helps both parties avoid misunderstandings, especially if there’s a joint responsibility.
  • Stipulate the Attorney Referral Percentage: This is one area where lawyers should not make assumptions. Ensure all parties know the referral fee percentage they will get. Depending on where the lawyer practices, a typical attorney referral percentage can be 30% or more. It could also be less. 
  • Refer to Trusted Attorneys: Only refer clients to competent attorneys with a good track record. This way, the parties can avoid malpractice claims. This is why lawyers prefer to refer to only those they trust or have worked with before. 
  • Uphold the Fee-Sharing Agreement: As an attorney, once you get paid by the client, forward the referral fee to the person who sent you the client. Doing this fosters trust and gets you future referrals. 

Do Lawyers Pay Referral Fees?

As already established, lawyers pay referral fees. On the one hand, they pay to their colleagues who refer clients to them, and on the other, to the state bar association. However, note that the American Bar Association bars attorneys from benefiting from referrals unless: 

  • The attorneys share the responsibilities of the case;
  • The client agrees to a referral fee in writing, and the agreement clearly state what each lawyer should get; and 
  • The total fee is reasonable. 
Lawyer is working on a case on her lap top

We should point out that the above is also subject to state laws. For example, in Alabama, lawyers who use the state bar referral service must pay 5% of any fee between $1,000 and $5,000 to the association. The money is used for advertising and program improvements. 

Sarah Williams Has the Answers You Need!

Are you a lawyer looking to understand how attorney referrals work? Then Sarah Williams is here for you. We do not only offer legal advice to clients but to attorneys also. We will help you understand everything from attorney referral fees to lawyer referral programs. Contact us today to get started with profit referral services. 

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