What Is the Difference Between a Referral and a Lead? - Legal Brand Marketing
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What Is the Difference Between a Referral and a Lead?

Is there a difference between a referral and a lead? They might seem interchangeable at first, but the truth is that there are some key differences between the two that are valuable for law firms to understand, which is where Legal Brand Marketing comes in. To help you get a firm grasp of the two, we’re going to compare and contrast referrals and leads in terms of their sources, conversion potentials, cost effectiveness, and more.

What is a Referral?

A referral comes from a trusted source, or through a more “personal” connection. Primarily, other clients might refer their own friends and family to your firm if they had a positive experience. Perhaps you have colleagues in the legal field who refer their own prospective clients to you on the occasion that their own legal expertise may be less appropriate than your own to assist the client. 

Referrals are valuable because of their personalized nature, which is why they are significantly rarer than leads acquired via national marketing campaigns. Referrals are essentially pre-qualified, which lead to conversion rates since the prospect is at a later stage of the decision-making process by the time they contact your firm.


While those are powerful advantages to have, a law firm can hardly rely on referral leads alone to sustain its business’ viability in the long run. That’s where leads come in. 

What is a Lead? 

A lead is acquired through broadscale marketing efforts. For instance, our team at Legal Brand Marketing generates leads for our clients through a variety of marketing channels on a large scale, such as SEO and paid search marketing, direct mail, email marketing, partnerships with legal publishers, and other legal marketers. In most cases, we’re using different brands to generate leads for specific practice areas, which creates uncertainty for the consumer in terms of who will contact them. If they fill out a form on TrafficAccidents.com, but ABC Law Firm contacts them, it will take the lead a moment to reconcile the discrepancy.


Regardless of the marketing channel, the lead typically is not aware of who will reach out to them. They have little knowledge and expectations of the firm that will contact them. You can imagine how impersonal this interaction might be for the potential client, so it is up to the firm to establish trustworthiness during the initial point of contact. The lead is not pre-qualified like a referral. It might be prescreened, but the firm has to work twice as hard to convert the lead.


Despite the lower conversion rate for leads, one of their biggest benefits is the cost. Leads are cheaper when compared to referrals, so law firms can acquire more volume. Even though leads lack the bespoke nature of converting a pre-qualified referral, the volume of leads is an advantage that a law firm cannot benefit from if it is solely reliant on business through referrals.


The objective is for the lead generator to provide as many viable leads as possible to the client, optimizing the campaign along the way, to sustain a net positive return on investment for everyone involved. 

Harnessing the Power of Referrals and Leads

Now that you understand the strengths and the differences of leads and referrals, it’s time to figure out how to harness the power of both.

Obviously, any law firm that is interested in growth and long-term sustainability should invest in a robust marketing strategy from a qualified legal lead generator. Rather than hoping that a satisfied client will call a family member and refer them to their office, a legal lead generator can employ a campaign that includes pay-per-click advertising, which will funnel business toward your firm while you do what you do best: practice law.


Meanwhile, take great care to foster relationships with every client you interact with. Remember, these clients are not individuals, they are networks of potential business opportunities; friends, colleagues, parents, in-laws, everyone knows someone who needs legal assistance. By providing excellent service to every client, you are investing into your firm’s future. Urge each client to leave a positive review of your business on highly visible websites, such as Google or Yelp, since a highly-rated law firm will attract curious onlookers who may be in need of your services. 


Even if a client arrives as a lead from your generator, take the time to turn that impersonal business relationship into a personal one. The distance between a lead and a referral can sometimes be as small as excellent service, attentive treatment, and an air of authenticity.


Using Leads to Grow Your Practice

As we’ve reviewed in this article, leads are essential to growing your law firm. Leads focus on volume that will help you to scale your business. Now, it’s just a matter of joining a network that can provide the volume that your firm is missing. Grow your firm with our lead generation services. With twenty years of experience behind us, you know that you’re in good hands.