Small Law Firms

The Practice: Following Up On Referrals (Non-Beggar Edition)

I rarely follow up on potential clients anymore. You want to hire me — you’ll let me know. I’m not playing your game of calling you back after the initial interview so you can tell me you’re “thinking about it,” but “the fee is really big.” Yeah, the fee is really big; so is your problem. You want to take your big problem to a bargain basement lawyer — knock yourself out. I don’t run a booth at the Straw Market in the Bahamas. If I’m going to negotiate, it’s going to be with opposing counsel, not you.

It’s killing you, though. You spoke with the client, they seemed interested, they asked all the right questions, and you gave all the right answers. They told you “money is no issue” (first clue they have no money.) It’s been a day or two, and nothing. No call, no email, and no questions about the retainer agreement you gave them.

What to do?

First, assume nothing. The client may not see the urgency in hiring a lawyer. The client may have spoken with you and then encountered an emergency or other issue that put their legal issue on the back burner, or they may be trying to get the money together and don’t want to waste your time until they can pay.

The anxiety you have about where the client may be in the hiring process can be resolved by being direct either at or before the initial consultation. When someone calls my office, they are asked certain questions before I speak to them, including, “Are you meeting with other lawyers?,” and “Are you the one hiring the lawyer?” If they are meeting with other lawyers, I tell them to meet with the other lawyers first. I know, you car salesmen out there are thinking, “That’s a terrible idea, Brian.” Listen, if the client is going to hire the first lawyer that tells them what they want to hear, including the price, that lawyer can have the case. I’m looking for clients who are looking for a good lawyer, not the first person who tells them they love them.

Second, if you must follow up, do not ask if the client has any questions or whether they have made a decision. Send an email thanking the client for contacting you, and wish them good luck. Basically, say goodbye. If they’re interested, they’ll let you know. Any indication you give that you want, need, or must have this case, makes you look like a beggar. You want the case that bad and the client hasn’t called you back in a day — call the client and tell them you’ve rethought the fee and it’s now discounted 30%. Just don’t tell the client you are a complete loser and they own you — they just figured that out.

Also, do not give the client a retainer agreement unless they agree to hire you. I don’t care if you have a form retainer agreement that never changes (which is stupid for many other reasons). I do not let the client walk out of my office with a single piece of paper until they’ve agreed to retain me. You want me to have something typed for you, pay me. You want me to send you a retainer agreement, send me a check. I’ll explain my fee structure to you, but nothing goes on paper until I’m paid.

You want the best follow-up? Forget the client, and follow up with the person who referred you the case. Be direct with your referral sources about the guy that wasted your time and hired some moron, or the one who said they were coming by with a check yesterday and didn’t show. Referral sources need to be thanked for good referrals, advised when things didn’t go so well, and asked to follow up. It’s always better for the client to get a call from the referral source asking, “How did things go?” The client will be more honest with the referral source than they will with you, especially if you came off as an incompetent slob.

Hope you Dads had a nice Father’s Day. (I really wrote that.)

Brian Tannebaum will never “get on board” at the advice of failed lawyers who were never a part of the past but claim to know “the future of law.” He represents clients, every day, in criminal and lawyer discipline cases without the assistance of an Apple device, and usually gets to work (in an office, not a coffee shop) by 9 a.m. No client has ever asked if he’s on Twitter. He can be reached at

(hidden for your protection)

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