We hear that question often. Many clients do not initially understand why they were referred to our firm. Some try to make up an excuse for their prior attorney with thoughts such as “I guess he doesn't handle that,” or “I guess she is too busy.” You may have wondered the same thing.
However, no excuse is necessary, as a case referral may be the best move for your case. Some realities regarding the practice of law make it clear why referrals are good, and often critical for our legal system. Referrals generally are made in the best interests of the client.
Attorneys struggle to be a “jack of all trades” with all areas of the law. The law is more vast than ever. Many areas of the law bear no resemblance to other areas of the law. Yet the law remains a very jealous mistress, in each unique area. Frankly, to stay current in all areas of the law is impossible. An attorney would spend all her time reading and never actually practicing law. Attorneys know it takes both knowledge and experience to be good and effective in an area of practice.
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But what if the attorney invested time in securing the client? What about the time the attorney may have taken to talk to the client and investigate? What if the attorney stays involved? Generally, you will not get charged twice. There is one fee typically. When an attorney refers that matter to another attorney, she may receive a referral fee for doing so under the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.5(e). That is compensation both for the expense and time involved. For our firm and many firms I am familiar with, referral fees do not increase the fee charged by the attorney resolving the matter. Rather, it is shared compensation for the time of all attorneys.
Referrals encourage specialization of the bar and raise the level of effective and diligent representation for the public. After all, the attorney could go ahead and accept the case and do his best to muddle through it. And maybe the outcome will be proper. But maybe not.
An area of law may have surprises, such as short deadlines. They can be missed rather easily by a lack of familiarity with an area of law. Conflicts of interest also can arise when an attorney tries to handle cases over many areas of the law. It can prejudice a case if an attorney must withdraw rather late in the process. Another attorney may not desire to assume any liability as to the prior attorney's work.
Finally, the attorney may recognize that it will take too much time to “get up to speed” on the area of law for the case. Present workloads, and the desire to charge a fair fee may require a referral. One who regularly practices in an area of law can be much more effective, and will not have to charge for time “getting up to speed.”
So, if an attorney refers your case to another firm, it may well be proper to thank your attorney for having your best interests at heart.