How Law Firms Can Automate Referrals to Become Predictable & Scalable

Lawyers know that referrals are a tried-and-true method of generating new business, but it takes a lot of manual work to stay on top of referrals, and it is not always a predictable method. 

In addition, the way that consumers look for legal counsel has changed immensely over recent years. The internet has opened up a plethora of research channels, giving the old-fashioned word-of-mouth referral a run for its money. 

Referrals, however, haven’t lost their effect. According to Clio’s 2019 Legal Trends Report, of those people looking for a lawyer, 59% sought a referral of some kind and 57% searched on their own. (16% did both!)

This shows that when it comes to a referral strategy today, it is important for lawyers to think creatively about what channels can be used to build referral business beyond the traditional word-of-mouth method. By thinking strategically and implementing the right technology, referrals can become predictable and scalable. 

How Attorneys Get Referrals Today

Referrals can come from many different sources – current and past customers, family and friends, other lawyers, non-legal professionals and more. Every firm is unique and will have referral sources that work best for them, so it is important to consider all sources when building a referral process: 

Family, Friends & Current Clients

The most common form of referral building is for law firms to simply ask their friends, family and current clients to refer their firm to anyone they may know who is in need of legal help. Whether these people know anyone, or even follow through for that matter, is up to luck.

Strategic Partnerships

Another common method of growing referrals is through strategic partnerships with both legal and non-legal professionals.

Many attorneys develop partnerships with legal professionals who offer a different practice focus. This is beneficial when the firm receives unqualified traffic or leads who need a service that firm doesn’t offer. By building a partnership with other law firms, attorneys can refer leads back and forth based on the practice area needed.

Partnerships with non-legal professionals are also a way to grow referrals. For example, many personal injury firms develop partnerships with doctors who can refer the attorney to patients who may need legal representation. 

While both of these strategic partnerships are a great way to get qualified referrals, they both remain unpredictable and the relationships take time to build.

Networking & Events

Networking events can be a great way for attorneys to meet potential partners and build a referral network. However, attending conferences and networking lunches can be both exhausting and time-consuming. 

Plus, what happens after a valuable connection has been made? 

Typically attorneys will exchange business cards, add the person on LinkedIn and send a quick “nice to meet you” email. In a best case scenario, they will meet up again for a cup of coffee. 

After these interactions, and if they like you, they may give you a referral or two shortly after you’ve met. But months later, chances are they won’t be sending you an endless flow of potential new clients. 

For that reason, referrals are not predictable or scalable. One month, you may get ten referrals, and the next month you might not get any. 

Plus, to get any results, you constantly have to hustle to add new contacts to your network. The process never ends. 

Amplify Your Referral Process with Automation

By adding in technology and automation, you can take your referral process to the next level and communicate personally to each of your different referral sources.

Step 1: Segment your audiences using a CRM

With so many referral sources available, it is important to make sure your database is segmented based on audience groups. Use a customer relationship management (CRM) system to create individual lists for all of your audiences - current clients, past clients, friends and family, non-legal partners, etc. By segmenting these groups, you can communicate with targeted messaging specific to each group.

Step 2: Stay in contact with your network using email automation

One of the biggest pain points of building referrals is losing communication after an initial connection. Whether it is someone you just met, or a client whose case you just won, it is easy to lose touch. 

After segmenting your audiences, use email automation technology to set up email journeys that communicate with connections over the course of a year or more. It is important to use different messaging in your emails for each of your audiences. In other words, the emails should be written specifically to the group of people that will be receiving it. 

Your email journeys can contain as few or as many emails as you prefer. Make sure that you don’t overwhelm your audiences by sending too many, but don’t let them forget about you by sending too few. 

In each of your emails, give your referral sources a reason to refer you to others. Let them know why your firm matters and that their network can trust you for legal help. 

Step 3: Continuously add new contacts and opt-in to journeys

Once your email journeys are complete, it is time to opt your current database into a journey (if applicable). After you’ve done this, it is important to start adding all new contacts into a journey moving forward. 

For example, if you meet someone at a networking event and exchange business cards, make sure to add that person to your CRM and immediately drop them into a corresponding journey. This will initiate communication immediately, and you won’t have to worry about creating a new email after every new connection is made.

Remember that happy clients can be your biggest fans, so always make sure to add clients to a referral journey after their case has been won.

Once you’ve dropped a new contact into a referral journey, the heavy lifting is done. You can focus on other things while emails are being sent in the background over time. 

Step 4: Respond to new referrals

When you receive a response to one of your automated referral emails, it is time to pick back up manual conversation and collect the lead (or leads)!

At this point, you have the option to remove the referral source contact from the journey, or you can leave them in the journey if it makes sense to continue. 

In regards to your new lead, it is time to do what you do best! Start the legal process if the lead is a qualified fit. By automating your referral process, you have been able to generate new leads with minimal effort, while building relationships at the same time. 

Take Your Referrals to the Next Level

While the steps above allow you to build a solid foundation for a predictable and scalable referral process, there are extra marketing tactics you can put in place to take your referral process even further:

  • Set up landing pages specifically for referrals: Landing pages are helpful for all parties in the referral process - the attorney, the referral source and the referral. Set up landing pages that include a comprehensive overview of your firm, as well as an opt-in form where new referral contact information can be submitted. This will help you keep all new leads organized and will provide your new referrals with information about why they should choose you for legal representation. 
  • Run retargeting ads to your contact database: Retargeting ads are a great way to keep top of mind with your referral sources. You can run ads specifically to your contact list of referral sources as wells run ads to new leads who have visited your website or referral landing page.
  • Offer incentives for referrals: People are more likely to send referrals if they get something in return. If it fits in your firm’s budget, consider offering an incentive for each qualified lead that a referral source sends to you. By adding this easy strategy to your process, it is likely that you’ll see more referrals coming your way.


When asked, many law firms that we have talked to said that referrals are their main source of growth, yet they don’t have any processes set in place to make the referral process predictable or scalable. This puts law firms at potential risk of failure if the referrals ever run dry or if the firm doesn’t have time to actively seek new referral sources. 

By automating the referral process using marketing automation technology, attorneys can save time, minimize lost communication and ultimately set their law firm on a consistent path to growth. As a result, law firms will have the ability to invest in their businesses by hiring new talent, such as marketing, sales and business development professionals who have the knowledge to advance the firm even further.


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