Making a Professional Referral
Rashada N. Jamison is a communications agency vice president and owner of Silver Stream Consulting Group in Chicago. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As an attorney, you’re likely to face a time when a friend or client asks you for a referral to another professional who can help him solve a problem. This person likely feels that you are a credible source for a quality recommendation and thus has a certain amount of trust in you and your judgment. Before providing a name and contact information, consider that your recommendation may be the only candidate your acquaintance considers—based primarily on your perspective. What should you consider before you recommend another professional?
A good way to determine whether you’re making a good referral is to ask yourself if you would choose that person to handle a personal matter for you. Make the same assessments you would if the service were for you, and use these
as a filter for your final recommendation.
One of the best sources for a referral is someone you personally have worked with, because you have firsthand knowledge of the referree’s work. Gauging the quality of her work based on a fact or facts you know rather than on speculation will help you be objective.
Providing a referral based on good work or services someone you know and trust has received is usually just as reliable. If you refer a professional you personally have not worked with, however, it’s considerate to share that information with the inquirer. Manage his expectations by saying something like, Although I haven’t worked with Dr. Wolff, it’s my understanding her work is fantastic. The inquirer will appreciate hearing the truth. Be precise in the information you provide to both the inquirer and the professional whom you suggest. In the event you have no recommendation, just say so.
When referring to someone you know or have worked with in the past, let that person know you’ve recommended her, and to whom. If you’re not sure she’s open to new clients or wants her contact information shared, call and ask.
It’s completely acceptable to tell the inquirer that you’d first like to touch base with the referee and then get back to him. Reaching out not only is a nice courtesy but also tends to strengthen the relationship between you and the person you recommend.
If you sense the inquirer may not be an ideal match with your referee—say, he’s looking for a property lawyer but asks a lot of extraneous questions—share that insight with the referee to help her make an informed decision.
You are not required to share the extent of your knowledge of, relationship with, or relation to the person you refer, unless you believe there may be a conflict of interest. For example, no harm is done by referring a legal matter to your attorney sister. If she has all the right qualifications, you can ethically share her professional background but not reveal she is your sister. If you’re working on a business matter with someone who asks you to recommend an attorney, however, you may want to disclose that the person you recommend is your sister. Being up front about this allows the colleague to make an informed decision, and speaks to your credibility and integrity.
If you’re unsure whether to disclose information about the relationship, consider your intentions. Is there a reason for keeping it confidential? Is it important that the inquirer know? You may have to make a judgment call.
When you’re the one asking for a referral, stay open minded. Don’t judge someone whose referral turns out not to work for you.
In the end, it’s not just about who you know but also who knows you.
• The Lawyers Guide to Marketing Your Practice, 2d ed. 2004. PC # 5110500. Law Practice Management Section.