Business Development Bloopers and Blunders: References

More top legal officers are hiring new law firms than ever. In most cases, clients are hiring firms with whom they have never worked. At the same time the number of law firms CLOs recommend to their peers has declined. The dearth of peer recommendations and lack of experience with the firms are driving these potential clients to check references more than ever before.

Let’s set the stage. You have toiled to prepare the proposal. You have made it through the gauntlet of questions and requests for additional (and often highly detailed) information. You have presented and made your case. You have convinced a potential client you just might be the one. And then…they ask you for references.

Top legal decision makers often share many of their law firm experiences with me as I conduct client feedback interviews and moderate panels. These potential law firm clients tell me they get some pretty remarkable answers from partners when they request references. Decide for yourself below:

“Why?”

“We only give references when we know you are truly going to hire us so we don't bother our clients.”

“We feel our reputation speaks for itself.”

“My work is so sensitive I don’t feel comfortable disclosing who they are.”

“Can it be from a different practice – it will speak to our culture.”

“Can you tell me what you plan to ask them?”

“How much time do I have to get them to you?”

“Frankly, when you reach the status of being a leader in this firm you don't need references.”

Advantages of the Instant Reference

The rainmakers and client-savvy partners always have a list of references at the ready. Instant references show you are prepared, confident, and can anticipate where things might go. Having a set of go-to references also shows you have happy clients who will vouch for you at a moment’s notice. (Of course, you have already asked for permission.)

An answer such as: “Sure, here they are,” or “Can I email these over to you,” or even “Please wait a day before you call them so I can give them a heads-up,” is good with potential clients. Anything else will ensure you don’t get the work. 

MBR