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How advisors can build mutually beneficial relationships with attorneys

Senior Wealth Strategist Jeff Brooks outlines how financial professionals can build productive relationships with attorneys that benefit both their practice and their clients.

Jeffrey R. Brooks, JD

Jeffrey R. Brooks, JD

Senior Wealth Strategist

May 6, 2024
6 minute read

Key takeaways:

  • Non-investment professionals such as attorneys can serve as valuable sources of referrals for financial advisors, and vice-versa.
  • Before seeking out potential partnerships, consider the focus of your practice so you can determine what areas of legal practice will complement your client focus.
  • While finding and working with attorneys requires a significant investment of time and effort, a mutually beneficial relationship can result in tremendous return on that investment, for advisors, attorneys, and clients as well.

Center of Influence (COI) development is an important part of a financial professional’s marketing plan. Whether that means targeting attorneys, accountants, tax preparers, appraisers (and the list goes on), an advisor’s ability to refer business can be significant – almost as significant as the work performed for clients.

As a former practicing attorney who has been in the financial services industry for more than 25 years, I’m in a unique position to share insight into the development of the advisor-attorney relationship.  In the simplest terms, developing relationships with non-investment professionals can be broken down into two stages: 1. finding them, and 2. developing and working with them as COIs.

Find the attorneys you wish to develop as referral sources

Before you begin seeking out potential partnerships, do a little self examination. Consider the focus of your own practice and your client base. Do you focus on business owners? Professional athletes? Retirees? Next, determine what areas of the legal practice complement your client focus. Estate planning lawyers are most commonly selected by financial advisors and are applicable to all client types. But it’s also worth considering developing relationships with divorce lawyers, small business lawyers, litigators, elder law lawyers, and others. All of these specialized firms can be found through personal connections or referrals from clients, as well as through the local or state bar directory.

It also helps to become known by joining and supporting professional organizations such as estate planning councils. Invite attorneys to speak to groups within your office or groups of clients and prospects. This will help you establish your reputation as a resource for investment information and as a good partner.

Of course, simply knowing an attorney and developing one as a COI are two separate things. It’s good to know several attorneys in various areas of the practice. That way, you can diversify your referral options among different personality types, those with offices in the areas frequented by your investors, and those with various billing rates.

Finally, a key question to ask yourself is, how many close friends do you have? Developing a COI referral source involves making (and keeping) a close friend. Clearly you want to focus on attorneys who do good work for satisfied clients, but in the end, friends refer business to friends. With that in mind, don’t select more sources than the number of close-friend relationships you can reasonably manage.

Developing attorneys as COIs

Once a potential COI attorney is found, set up a meeting to discuss the potential of doing business together. Be open and honest about the purpose of the meeting: to develop cross referrals. More importantly, be transparent about the potential for referrals to the attorney and the expectation of referrals in return. Ask for (and give) a guarantee of the highest level treatment for clients referred, and discuss the potential for discounted fees for clients referred.

It’s also important to manage expectations. When it comes to referrals, keep in mind that perhaps 5%-10% of an attorney’s clients qualify for a financial advisor, while 100% of a financial advisor’s clients qualify for legal work. As such, financial professionals are the MUCH better referral source.

That said, for the relationship to work, you must appreciate the value of an attorney’s work. Abraham Lincoln is often quoted as saying, “A lawyer’s time and advice is his stock in trade.” Often our job as financial advisors is to help investors understand the value of good legal advice.

Furthermore, when it comes to legal advice, clients are paying for much more than a fill-in-the-blank form. Consider the time an attorney spends in client meetings, drafting “simple” documents, meeting to sign documents, assisting in the titling of assets/funding of trusts, obtaining legal education (original and continuing), obtaining and maintaining a law license, gaining experience and expertise in a particular area of the practice, and marketing and office management.

Working together

Another key aspect of ensuring a productive relationship is taking the time to understand the attorney’s business model. What is the structure of the business? Is it a boutique firm or a larger, multi-practice firm? What are the fees for legal services and how and when are they collected? If more than a sole practitioner, how is the attorney compensated and how will referrals benefit the COI?

Just as important is helping the attorney understand your business model. Describe the business structure of your firm: Do you focus on a particular client type? Explain the source and mechanism of your compensation and the benefit of receiving new clients.

Finally, make detailed and specific plans for how you will work together. With the client’s prior permission, financial professionals can gather and provide information essential to the provision of good legal work. This often reduces the amount of attorney time spent and the cost of legal services. Financial professionals can also monitor progress and push it forward when necessary. And because of the ongoing client-advisor relationship, financial professionals can suggest when updates or amendments should be explored.

In summary

I cannot emphasize it enough: Friends refer business to friends. Finding and working with attorneys requires a significant investment of time, attention, and effort. It’s building a friendship with purpose, and the relationship can result in a tremendous return on investment, both professionally and personally. Financial professionals benefit, attorneys benefit, and clients benefit from getting valuable financial and legal guidance. It’s a win-win-win situation!



The information contained herein is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as financial, legal or tax advice. Circumstances may change over time so it may be appropriate to evaluate strategy with the assistance of a financial professional. Federal and state laws and regulations are complex and subject to change.  Laws of a particular state or laws that may be applicable to a particular situation may have an impact on the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of the information provided. Janus Henderson does not have information related to and does not review or verify particular financial or tax situations, and is not liable for use of, or any position taken in reliance on, such information.