Among lawyers, it is common to ask for a co-counsel fee. That is, a request to share in the legal fee when you recommend a client to another lawyer. Typically, lawyers will “share” fees although a straight referral fee is technically unethical. Rather, the lawyer must participate in the rendering of the services or, at the least, agree to be responsible with the other lawyer for the work.
I don’t normally engage in this practice. Instead, I happily make a introduction, and allow the attorney and client to make their own deal. I don’t look for anything in return. Instead, I expect attorneys to whom I refer cases to think of me when they have a client who could use my traffic ticket defense services.
That leads me to a recent experience I had with a lawyer who we will call Leslie. Leslie does estate work and I referred, at least, one nice client to handle a will and other matters resulting in billables of around $3,500. Both Leslie and the client were happy with my introduction and I haven’t thought about it since.
However, Leslie emailed me this week advising that she had received a speeding ticket in update New York and wanted a recommendation for a local attorney to handle her case. My reaction was disappointment. Why wouldn’t Leslie just retain me? Even if I was going to get my own local counsel, didn’t Leslie “owe” me?
The more I thought about it, the more disappointed I became. The cost to Leslie would have been roughly the same, and this was not a complicated legal matter. Even if Leslie’s cost would have been a little higher ($100 to $200), shouldn’t Leslie have given me the business as a thank you for my prior referral? It seems like a small price to pay. A fee of even 10% for my past referral would have cost Leslie more.
Yet Leslie not only ignored me but essentially “rubbed it in” by also asking for my upstate attorney recommendation. This exchange wouldn’t have bothered me as much if Leslie had sent me even just one client in the past. Yet here I was in the unenviable position of responding to a request for help from an un-appreciative colleague. Of course, I obliged Leslie’s request … but I hope you don’t blame me if, for now on, I send my estate work to someone else.