Negligent Referrals and Other Ethical Traps in Potential Client Relationships


For attorneys, the best referral is a referral from another attorney. But before you refer to another attorney, beware of the ethical traps. Kristi Thomas, a labor and employment attorney who also focuses on ethical issue, warns in a recent article that incautious referrals can lead to a conflict of interest, or an improper referral fee, or even liability for making a negligent referral.

Kristi discusses these traps, and offers some tips how to avoid them:

  • Give multiple names when making a referral, not just one. (Especially if you have a referral-fee arrangement with one of them.)
  • Don’t vouch for your colleagues. That doesn’t mean you can’t say anything about them, but instruct potential clients to do their own research.
  • Control the conversation with the potential client to avoid eliciting confidential information and creating conflicts—don’t let them “vent.”
  • Send non-engagement letters, confirming no attorney-client relationship has been formed.
  • Check your malpractice policy to see if it covers negligent referrals—not all of them do.


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