The Difficulty (and Importance) of Client References in Legal Directory Submissions

While each content-section of legal directory submissions has its own value, it’s easy to overlook the importance of client references – especially because obtaining references is a challenging and often sticky process.

The issue isn’t that you don’t have an impressive list of clients who value your firms work and would be happy to recommend your firm to a peer. And it isn’t that your client’s internal policy prohibits them from providing a reference (although this can be common in certain industries). In fact, the issue is often internal – the attorneys who own the client relationships at your firm perceive that they have little to gain by submitting their contacts to an opaque process, and a lot to lose. 

If you put yourself in their shoes, it’s easy to understand the hesitation.

By any social standard, an attorney’s relationship with a client contact would typically fall into the “it’s complicated” category. Clients hold outside counsel to high standards, tight budgets, and expect nothing less than the best work product. Similarly, attorneys hope their clients will be responsive, flexible to conflict waivers, and fair and reasonable with budgets. The relationship is a constant give-and-take, and attorneys can be hesitant to make an “ask” of a client contact unless it’s of real importance.    

Sell the Value Internally

Within legal marketing, we know the importance of legal directory rankings, and the value of client references, but it is worth evaluating whether the value is being effectively communicated to those who own the client contacts. To start, it’s useful to look at commonly heard objections when requesting references from attorneys within our firms:

  • The reference could be frequently bothered by researchers
  • The reference request could be poorly timed (even a strong, long lasting client relationship has its ups and downs, and a reference request after a case loss could be damaging)
  • We don’t know what questions the researcher will ask
  • The researcher could be unprofessional, which would reflect poorly on the firm
  • The reference could feel that it was a waste of their time

Of course there are more, and concerns vary by individual, but being prepared to overcome these objections can help to assuage these fears, and result in a valuable reference. Some tactics include:

  • Limiting the number of times each reference is contacted per year, and “expiring” the reference after a certain period of time
  • Obtaining explicit approval from the attorney before each possible communication with the reference
  • Providing the attorney with talking points when requesting that a client act as a reference
  • Clearly communicating the value of client references in legal directories and rankings, and your process for managing references and submissions to overcome internal objections

For additional tips and tactics for legal references, including replies to common objections, and talking points for attorneys when requesting a client act as a reference, click here.

By Adam Donovan, Senior Marketing Manager, Fish & Richardson P.C., for the March/April 2014 Issue of the Capital Ideas Newsletter.

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