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Lawyers Often Shouldn’t Refer Matters That Can’t Be Monetized To Other Lawyers – Above the Law

referral-3272324_640Referrals are a common practice within the legal profession, and this column has previously discussed how referrals can have advantages for both the referring attorney and the lawyer receiving the referral. If a lawyer is too busy with work, or they do not have expertise in a particular subject matter, they may refer the matter to another lawyer who can more easily handle the work. However, not all referrals are created equal, and lawyers should often not refer work that cannot be monetized simply because they do not want to deal with the matter themselves.

Shortly after beginning my law practice, I received all kinds of referrals. Some of the referrals helped me expand my practice and assisted me in building the financial foundation upon which I relied as a self-employed lawyer. However, I also received a number of referrals that were not helpful and took time away from better referrals that could help me expand my firm.

For instance, shortly after beginning my own law firm, a former colleague of mine asked me if I handled real estate matters, and I said that I did. This lawyer then told me that his family friend had a real estate matter that he wishes to discuss with a lawyer. When I talked to this person’s friend, I found out that the friend was disputing around $500 in charges that his landlord had deducted from his deposit for alleged damages to his apartment. The friend asked me for advice about whether the charges were legally justified and whether to take legal action against the landlord.

I was frustrated by the other lawyer for referring this matter to me. Since the matter was only worth $500 in total, there was almost no way that I could monetize the matter. However, I had to be considerate to the person who had the legal issue since I did not want this person to write a negative review of me or have a bad experience with my practice. I ended up spending considerable time on the phone with this person and communicating by email to make sure that this person had a solid grasp of his legal rights with respect to his deposit.

It was obvious to me that this lawyer friend of mine should have simply assisted the friend himself and not passed this person along to me. The lawyer friend could have easily searched for relevant information and assisted the person with his legal needs. This lawyer friend of mine had a prior connection to this person that I did not have, so if anyone was going to assist this person without a financial incentive, it should be my lawyer friend and not me. However, the lawyer friend used me as a “garbage disposal” instead of handling the matter himself, and I even suspect the lawyer thought he was doing me a favor by setting me up with the person who had legal questions!

To make it perfectly clear, I am not saying lawyers should never offer advice for free. Indeed, I am often generous when it comes to handling small matters without charge to friends and family because I have a connection to the people I am serving. Sometimes, handling tasks for free can lead to additional work, and I even remember a time when I was in Biglaw in which we handled a matter for free for the relative of a client so that we would get more work.

However, if a lawyer is approached by a friend or relative with a legal issue that likely cannot be monetized, they should try to handle the matter rather than refer it to someone else. Before lawyers refer work to others, they should think about whether a matter can be monetized or whether it is the type of matter that they can handle as a favor to a friend or relative.

Rothman Larger HeadshotJordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at

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Amit Ghosh
Amit Ghosh


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