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Here’s what to say to referral sources when you have a niche legal practice that’s not easily understood

Lawyers with niche legal practices not well-understood by other lawyers need to convey what they do in a way that makes it easy for those other lawyers to send them referrals.

If you’ve read any of my blog posts or you’ve watched any of my videos, you know I am bullish on thought-leadership marketing and content marketing for lawyers and law firms.

Most lawyers and law firms that engage in content marketing and thought-leadership marketing focus their efforts overwhelmingly on reaching current, prospective, and past clients.

That’s all well and good, but most law firms and lawyers get a fair amount of business from referrals. So they’re missing a big opportunity when they do not direct their content marketing and thought-leadership marketing efforts toward referral sources. 

When you are a personal injury attorney, a criminal defense attorney, a trusts and estates attorney, or another attorney with a traditional and easily understood legal practice, it is not hard to convey to your referral sources the work you do for clients and the kinds of cases those referral sources should send you.

But what happens when you’re an attorney with a niche area of law that isn’t well understood—even by lawyers? I’m thinking of, for example, consumer rights lawyers, insurance lawyers who focus on a niche within the insurance industry, and transportation and maritime lawyers. 

Lawyers in these three practice areas have practices their referral sources might understand and be knowledgable about at a high level. But those referral sources are not going to be as familiar with those lawyers’ cases as they would be with a personal injury lawyer’s cases or a criminal defense lawyer’s cases. They’re not going to instantly know when a case is the kind they should refer to a lawyer with one of those practices.

If YOU have a niche practice that isn’t easily understood by your referral sources, and as a result you are not getting the number of referrals you think you should, you need to tweak how you communicate with your referral sources.

You need to speak to them in fact patterns.

Why talk to referral sources in fact patterns?

The idea of talking to referral sources in fact patterns might sound a bit weird at first. 

But if you have a niche legal practice, you can’t talk to your referral sources about particular statutes or court decisions as a form of shorthand. They’re not going to know what the hell you’re talking about. They’ll be familiar with the statutes and court decisions within their practices, but most likely not those within other practices. 

(Remember, the benefit of a niche practice is that it is not as prevalent a practice as broader practices, and it will require specialized knowledge that most lawyers do not have. Therefore, you can become a trusted authority in a niche area of law more easily than in a general practice on account of the (likely) scarcity of other attorneys who practice that niche area of law.)

If you have a niche legal practice, talking in fact patterns to your referral sources allows you to bridge the knowledge gap between you and the (likely) little information your referral sources have about your practice. This will help your referral sources more easily see the real-world examples of cases they should send you. Talking in fact patterns trains your referral sources to spot issues their prospective or current clients have that you might be able to help them with.

Let’s say you’re a consumer rights attorney and you focus on Fair Credit Reporting Act cases in which causes of action arise when, for example, a credit reporting agency does not properly resolve a false credit report it produced for a consumer. 

If you talk in your marketing materials that go to other referring attorneys about FCRA cases and various provisions of the statute, those referring attorneys are going to lose interest and they’re not going to care. That content is probably going to be too in the weeds to hold their attention.

But if you start talking in fact patterns, you will likely get a different result.

For example, you can say, “The kinds of cases we handle include instances when someone received their credit report and it had someone else’s information on it.” 

Or you can say, “We help people who didn’t get a job because their background check came back with incorrect criminal histories remove those criminal histories and hold accountable the companies responsible for making that error.”

When you talk in fact patterns, you are talking in the kinds of frameworks easily understood by lawyers who may be able to refer you business. In fact, depending on your relationship, they can even structure their intake conversations with prospective clients to inquire about whether any prospective clients have the kinds of legal problems you can help them with. You’ve made it that easy for them by giving real-world examples of the work you do.

Fact patterns work in all of your referral marketing tools

What’s great about speaking in fact patterns, in addition to helping your referral sources understand the kinds of client matters they can send your way, is that you can easily talk in fact patterns in all of your referral marketing materials.

You can talk in fact patterns in your referral network newsletters.

You can talk in fact patterns in your LinkedIn posts.

You can talk in fact patterns in articles you write for legal industry publications.

You can talk in fact patterns on the phone with, or in emails to, your referral sources.

Anytime you speak with a referral source is an opportune time to talk to them about your practice—in the form of fact patterns.

Talk in fact patterns, not causes of action 

When lawyers engage in referral marketing, they have to make it easy for their referral sources, normally other lawyers, to send them referrals. This is especially true for lawyers with niche legal practices.

To make it easy to be referred cases, lawyers must help their referral sources understand the kinds of client matters those lawyers handle.

Talking in causes of action to referral sources, i.e., “We handle Fair Credit Reporting Act cases,” comes naturally to lawyers because that’s what we do throughout our day. We talk about the cases and statutes that apply to our clients’ legal issues.

But when lawyers in niche practices talk in causes of action, they do themselves no favors with respect to engaging referral sources. Without additional guidance, those referral sources aren’t going to know how to translate those causes of action to the situations clients find themselves in.

Talking in fact patterns, however, provides that translation for referral sources, and helps them understand the kinds of client issues they can send to another lawyer.

If you’re a lawyer in a niche practice who wants to increase the number of referrals you receive, talking in fact patterns to current and prospective referral sources is a key first step to take toward accomplishing that goal.

Interested in more frequently engaging your referral sources through written content? Click here to schedule a 30-minute Content Strategy Audit to learn if collaborating with an outside strategist and/or writer is the right move for you and your firm.

Wayne Pollock, a former Am Law 50 senior litigation associate, is the founder of Copo Strategies, a legal services and communications firm, and the Law Firm Editorial Service, a content strategy and ghostwriting service for lawyers and their law firms. The Law Firm Editorial Service helps Big Law and boutique law firm partners, and their firms, grow their practices and prominence by collaborating with them to strategize and ethically ghostwrite book-of-business-building marketing and business development content.

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