One of the greatest compliments I have been fortunate enough to receive in the practice of law is the referral of a client from another attorney to me. When an attorney makes a referral to me, it means that one of my peers, a fellow attorney, has determined that I am best suited to represent his interests and the interests of his client. However, most clients are unfamiliar with the process, the reasons referrals are made and the purpose of the referral.
To understand referrals, one has to understand the nature of the modern practice of law. Gone are the days of Atticus Finch, where a local lawyer was available to solve all of your problems. Unfortunately, for lawyers and clients, those are days of a by-gone era. Today’s legal environment is far too complicated and involved for one attorney to be a master of all trades. In fact, it would be unwise for an attorney to act as a true “general practitioner,” in this day and age.
In order for attorneys to provide a full-range of services to their clients, most attorneys today affiliate with other law firms.
These relationships may develop by way of familiarity between the attorneys or it may develop because of a particular attorney’s reputation in a given area of the law.
For instance, most attorneys are not patent lawyers.
When a client approaches a non-patent lawyer with issues in that area of the law, the attorney neither should nor could represent the client’s interest. In our firm, because we do not practice patent law, we have made it a point to become familiar with other law firms that do this work and to make certain determinations as to their level of competency and sophistication in that area of law. The same is true for many other areas of law from appellate practice to zoning law. As such, if a client comes to our firm for representation in an area where we do not practice, in those cases where we can, we make an effort to locate an attorney who will address the client’s needs and do so professionally and competently. As such, when you seek out a local attorney that you know and trust, it is a positive sign if the attorney considers the referral of your case. Indeed, if the attorney has no prior experience in that area of law or very limited experience in that area of law, it should be both his ethical and professional obligation to ensure that you are referred out to alternative counsel.
Why would an attorney make a referral?
As just noted, many would view it as their ethical and professional obligation. There are also financial reasons why an attorney would make such a referral. In most circumstances, where there is a contingent fee involved, a referral fee is paid to the referring attorney.
For instance, if you have been injured by a drug company, a doctor, a negligent driver, or suffered some other injury as a result of the negligence of others, most firms, like mine, would handle that case on a contingent fee basis. This means we would typically receive between 33%-40% of all sums recovered. If you came to my office on a referral, the attorney who sent you to my office would receive 1/3 of my fee. He receives that compensation because he or she remains financially responsible to you for my conduct. In other words, if the attorney accepting the referral does something wrong, both the attorney who took your case and the attorney that referred you, would be financially responsible. No one would take the risk of making that referral if there were not an opportunity for compensation.
Should you ask for your attorney to make a referral?
In many cases, if you know an attorney either personally or by their reputation in the community, you should discuss with that attorney their experience in the area of law in which you need representation. You should ask probing questions about that attorney’s experience in that area of the law such as:
- How many clients have you represented in this area of the law?
- How long have you been practicing in this area of the law?
- Do you accept referrals from other attorneys in this area of the law?
If you are unsatisfied with their response to any of those questions, you may want to discuss with them the possibility of making a referral of your case.
In seeking any type of professional assistance, whether it be medical care or legal advice, you should be firm and direct in your questions and proactive in your efforts to protect your interest and rights. Whether you are seeing a doctor or a lawyer, competent, well-qualified professionals will not be offended by those questions. Indeed, at Tapella & Eberspacher, we encourage clients to ask these questions.
If you believe you need an attorney, or you have questions about your referral, call us NOW at (217) 394-5885. We are ALWAYS here to help.