Building a Solo Practice: Generating Business Through Legal Insurance Referrals
This is the fourth post in a series on solo and small firm marketing by guest blogger Douglas Greenberg, a successful tax solo based in San Francisco, CA. The first was an intro to the subject, the second examined the promotional power of a legal niche, and the third addressed the marketing power of Yelp.
In my most recent posts, I have discussed a variety of attorney marketing methods. But given the uncertainties of marketing, one often wishes there was better way. What if, instead of marketing, we could rely on a free service guaranteed to bring us clients? All you would need to do is sign up, sit back, and let the business roll in.
Sound too good to be true? It isn’t. It’s called legal insurance.
Legal insurance is a type of insurance that offers its members prepaid or discounted legal services. Companies and organizations purchase the insurance and then offer it to their workers as an employee benefit. When an employee needs an attorney, he or she searches the provider’s listings for a participating lawyer in the area. The employee calls the attorney like any other prospective client. And the relationship ensues normally.
Since the companies seek to offer a wide variety of legal services, all different types of lawyers may apply. So this may be of interest to you regardless of your practice area, whether it’s family law, bankruptcy, real estate, or otherwise. The catch with these plans is that the rates the attorney can charge are pre-set by the insurance company. Often, the pre-set rates are fairly low, and the cases are generally not very lucrative. In some cases, the insurer pays the member’s bill in full. In others, the bill is paid only in part. In still others, the insurer pays nothing at all but pre-negotiates a discounted rate with the attorney. Thus, you will need to inquire into a member’s coverage before taking their case.
For a budding solo, these legal insurance referrals offer another source of revenue, a reliable albeit moderate one. With legal insurance plans, at least the paying variety, there are few, if any, collection issues. The attorney submits a claim to the insurance company and the claim is processed as a routine insurance claim. Thus, the attorney is assured of receiving at least some remuneration. Such reliable cash flow can be very important to a fledgling practice by keeping the lights on as you build your book of business. Moreover, by doing good work for these initial clients, you can generate good word-of-mouth and online reviews–as I’ve discussed previously, these are key to building your client base.
Another nice thing about legal insurance companies is that they largely negate the need for expensive referral services. When I first began as a solo, I received numerous sales pitches from paid referral services. All required expensive up-front fees and though many promises were made, none offered any sort of guarantees. In short, I felt the incentives in these arrangements were slanted in favor of the provider. Once you pay the initial cost, what assurances do you have that there will be an adequate number of quality referrals? Indeed, after doing some research I found that these plans generally suffer from a low level of customer satisfaction.
If, keeping all of this in mind, you decide to stick your toe in the pool, there are a large number of legal insurance companies. In truth, I have yet to explore all of them. But, so far I have been most impressed with ARAG. ARAG is one of the larger legal insurance providers and their service is run quite professionally. ARAG’s fees are relatively clear cut. Its website is easy to use. And, if you have any problems, a courteous and helpful operator is only a phone call away. There are other plans as well, though I have less familiarity with them. I have tended to stay away from plans which offer no payment to their members. Not only do these plans strike me as stingy, I have generally gotten little if any business from them after signing up.
Signing up as a network attorney is surprisingly easy, and generally only involves the submission of minor paperwork such as an application and proof of malpractice insurance. Simply look on the provider’s website and click the links for joining as an attorney. There should also be a phone number for this specific department.
Although you may ultimately outgrow the comparatively low compensation associated with legal insurance plans, they are a valuable resource to consider as you’re starting out in solo practice. Until you have enough business to be picky and choosy, it’s hard to ignore a no-cost, guaranteed source of work that pays on time.