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How to Build a Referral Network Before You Practice Law

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on May 21, 2019

You don't need a law license to build a referral network; you need a plan.

It's like building a house. You need a plan before you get out the hammer and nails. And it's never too early to plan for success. You can build a referral network in law school, or while you're waiting for bar exam results.

Law School Networking

Networking is really about building a business, and a solid law practice builds on referrals. Some of your best referrals could come from classmates, professors, and student organizations. The American Bar Association suggests a student action plan:

  • Commit to meet new people
  • Research networking events
  • Volunteer or assist event organizers
  • Follow up with phone calls or meetings

If you have already decided on a practice area, you can focus your energy in that direction. But if you're still finding your way, don't worry about it. Bigger nets often catch bigger fish. Finally, law students typically have an advantage over older practicing lawyers -- they know how social media really works. If that's you, you were born for this.

After the Bar Networking

Law schools don't teach networking or how-to-get-referrals, so it's often something new lawyers learn in the school of hard knocks. One of the toughest lessons comes when your own colleagues don't refer business to you. Whatever the reason, you need a strategy to deal with it.

Sally J. Schmidt, who provides marketing services to law firms, says attorneys fail to cultivate internal referral sources. A key to unlock that resource is to treat colleagues better. You don't have to wait for bar results to do that. "How you treat your colleagues is how they assume you'll treat their clients," she says. "If you are not responsive, if you lack empathy, if you demonstrate poor listening skills, other lawyers will be loath to introduce you to a client."

It applies wherever you work, whether you are a clerk, paralegal, or lawyer-in-waiting. Be the job you want.

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