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When It Comes to Referrals, Keep Your Terrible Clients to Yourself, Please

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on September 30, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Here's some simple advice: when you're considering referring a client to other attorneys, keep your worst ones to yourself.

If your client has a week case, is difficult to work with, or has a tendency to struggle with timely payment, few attorneys would want you to send them their way.

The Golden Rule of Referrals

This friendly reminder to not pass your bad clients off to other attorneys comes from Randall Ryder, a consumer lawyer in the Twin Cities. Writing in Lawyerist this week, Ryder urges attorneys to make sure they are "doing the right thing" and not passing on their bad clients and cases to others:

I'm not saying that you can, or should, have the ability to recognize great cases in other practice areas. But every attorney can spot a potentially bad case, and they can usually see a problem client coming. You are doing more harm than good if you are referring those clients to other attorneys that you hold in high regard.

When it comes to referrals, keep the Golden Rule in mind: refer unto others as you would have them refer unto you.

Don't Poison the Referral Well

While this advice should be obvious, bad referrals can be surprisingly common as an easy way to get a frustrating client or unpromising case off your back. But it's a process that will backfire. You'll taint your reputation with other attorneys if you send them bad business, and they'll be much less likely to refer clients to you in the future.

But what if you just don't have the time to take the case? Well, Ryder smells a rat:

If you are a solo attorney, you know what I'm talking about. The only way I'm referring a great case to someone else is because of a conflict. That's it. If I'm already swamped, I will put in more hours and take the case.

So, what should lawyers do when they have a client they don't want to represent or a case they think isn't worth the trouble? You can refer the client to referral services like local bar associations, who will help them find lawyers. Or, if you absolutely must put them in touch with someone directly, you can give the other lawyer a heads up, letting them know the issues in advance to see if they'd be interested in the referral.

All you need to do is act with a little bit of courtesy in order to protect your reputation.

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