What is the Appropriate "Thank You" for Referrals?

What is the Appropriate "Thank You" for Referrals?

A November 2010 discussion on SoloSez, the email listserv for general practice, solo and small firm lawyers

Dear Firm,

What do you do to say "thank you" to colleagues who refer matters to you? I'm talking specifically about those referrals that are made without a fee-sharing agreement. Is a thank you note sufficient? Obviously, reciprocal referrals are nice...I'm not looking for quid pro quo admonishments, but really, what is appropriate...

Thanks in advance.


Depends on the referral.  if it is a small matter, lunch or dinner.  An office basket of treats.  If it is a big matter then more.  I got a large referral (over $100K in billings) from a trusted source to whom I X-refer on a regular basis. But as a thank you I sent a Mont Blanc pen set that Holiday season.  So it kind of depends.

David Kaufman, Virginia


I send a handwritten note of my appreciation.  If it's someone I am a little "closer" to and will likely have lunch/dinner with that person soon, I make a note to pick up lunch/dinner next time as well.

I have not had to consider a token of appreciation for a "big-time" referral, i.e. 6 figures or more.

Dana Z. Johnson, Illinois


As David said, depends on the referral.

But more importantly in my book, it depends on your state's rules.

In Virginia, I don't think we're allowed to give anything as a thank you.
Rule 7.3(c) says:

"A lawyer shall not compensate or give anything of value to a person or
organization to recommend or secure employment by a client, or as a reward for having made a recommendation resulting in employment by a client...."


I called the ethics hotline a while back to see if a small token is
considered bad, and the answer was a resounding YES (that's it's bad).

Now, can you still buy a colleague dinner or lunch? Can you give holiday gifts? Of course. But I would never say "thank you" along with any of that.

Definitely a handwritten thank you note, as soon as the referral has been made. If the client hires you, another note at the end of the matter might be a nice touch.


Andrew Flusche, Virginia


David, I've referred to you as all kinds of things, but no pen, no nothing.
What's up with that?  I mean, I referred to you as The Posting Guy at NSSFC in Austin, The Pain in the Tush at the Solosez dinner, with nary a thank you.  But I still adore you anyway, and I'll keep referring to you as appropriate monikers come to mind.

Vicki Levy Eskin, Florida


The standard lawyer answer is....it depends.

It depends on the type of matter referred, if it was a VERY nice referral (meaning very lucrative), if the same person has sent you more than one case, etc.

A referral for a traffic matter where you charge like $200 is way different than a civil matter where you get several thousand in fees, or a divorce where you get thousands in fees.

On the high end...maybe a case of good wine, if that's to their liking, or some good scotch or bourbon, or for women a day at a spa or for guys a couple of seats to a sporting event.  What you want to do is to show the other person you really appreciate them thinking of you in referring cases.

Tom Simchak, Texas


I like to give gift certificates, typically to Ruths Chris
Steakhouse...nearly everyone loves that...

Bobby Lott


It's always nice to take someone out to lunch or dinner or coffee.  However, we must not forget that practicing law as a solo is a business and we've got bills, overhead and lives to pay for.  Therefore, when I refer a client to another attorney, and to the extent that State Bar Rules allow, I have a referral agreement that ultimately translates into a referral fee. 

That being said, please be sure to note that we all have a duty to do our
due diligence and confirm that we are referring our referrals to lawyers of the highest caliber.

Law Office of Lowell Steiger, California


I got a very nice thank-you a few days ago from an attorney friend, who said "she's a gem!"  That always makes me feel good.  And a little sorry that I was too busy to take the client myself.

I get referrals from the same attorneys to whom I refer.  Never occurs to me that I should get a gift, just remember me when you're too busy or you don't do fam law.

C.J. Stevens, Montana


I love you too Vicki but Michele wants to meet you. Meanwhile, I'll just
keep calling you "Hurricane Vicki." 

David Kaufman

Sure thing CJ.  Just let me know when you are coming East so I can line them up for you.

David Kaufman


I always make sure I call and thank the referrer personally regardless of
the value to my office of the client.  If it turns out to be a big client, I
might take that person out to lunch.  I also try to make sure I return the
favor and send a quality referral the other way when the opportunity arises.

However, if you send me a dud -- someone you quit representing for
non-payment, a loon,  [deleted]-- then I take a stack of your business cards and hand them out to the homeless people who hang out in the park across from my office, telling each that he or she has a million dollar case against the federal government and the lawyer on the card wants to help.

Maybe that's why I usually eat lunch alone. :)

Trippe Fried, District of Columbia


When a colleague or client asks me where to shop and I pass along the   name of a vendor who I trust and like, I don't expect the vendor to do   anything.  I don't expect a gift basket, a gift certificate or even a 
thank you.  I pass the name simply along because I want to make the 
colleague or client happy.

I happen to regard legal referrals in much the same way.  If a client 
at my firm asks me for the name of a traffic attorney or a criminal 
defense attorney, I give them the name of an attorney who can help 
them because I want to make the client happy.  That, in turn, makes me look good.  I'm not asking for anything in return from the attorney I 
referred the client to except to provide the client with excellent 

On my end, I always send a thank you note for referrals, even when 
they don't work out.  I occasionally send a box of cookies, a gift 
basket or something similar in the event that the circumstances 
warrant more than a handwritten thank you.  But I personally think 
it's tacky for any attorney to *expect* anything other than a polite 
thank you for a referral (except in instances, like litigation, where 
a referral fee arrangement might exist).

Referrals shouldn't be about gifts and tokens.  They should be about 
the client and providing great service.  After all, as someone else 
wisely pointed out, the practice of a law is, first and foremost, a 

Kelly Phillips Erb


Not only for referrals, but when exceptional assistance is given, I search for an excellent restaurant near their office and send a gift card.  I think the effort demonstrates appreciation beyond the value of the gift.

I worry about limits that define a token v. compensation.  My rule: the
value of an hour is probably a token and enough to be notable.


John P. Page, Florida


I think hand written thank you note is always appropriate. I will also
follow-up and invite them out for lunch or dinner.

Recently though, I had two fellow debtor's attorneys send me really bad
referrals and it was quite clear that the referring attorney did not want
the case. In those cases, I think a referral to the local bar association is in order - and not a personal referral to me!

Jeena Cho, California