Canada: Law Firms vs. Referral Services

Last Updated: February 24 2016
Article by Robert Marks

After you've suffered a personal injury and you need to seek compensation, approaching a lawyer can feel intimidating. How will you know if you have the right one for your case, or if they'll represent you after you provide them with the particulars of your situation? Where do you even start looking for legal representation?

This is one of the reasons why lawyer referral services exist – they are a type of matchmaker, setting up clients with lawyers to represent them. But, they are not law firms, and there are both benefits and drawbacks to using them, as opposed to approaching a law firm directly.

A law firm such as Lerners Personal Injury is a business wherein lawyers represent clients in their fields of law. They have their own intake for new clients, and they handle both short- and long-term clients – a client relationship could only last as long as a single personal injury claim, but the firm can also continue to provide service to the client after the initial consultation, depending on its specializations.

A referral service is, in many ways, a marketing platform for lawyers. Some, such as JusticeNet and LawyerLocate, are independent organizations that may or may not be run for profit. Many referrals are free, although some, such as CanLaw, offer additional enhanced services for an up-front fee. Others, such as the Law Society of Upper Canada's Referral Service, are run by bar associations, connecting clients with their members. Their primary clientele is those who are not likely to contact a lawyer directly, either due to discomfort or due to a lack of knowledge of who they should contact.

As mentioned above, the interaction between a law firm and a referral service is very similar to a matchmaking service. You provide the referral service with your geographical details and information about your case. The service will refer you to a lawyer who handles cases like yours, and who will contact you after receiving your information for a consultation. After the consultation is done, both you and the lawyer decide whether to proceed with the case – the initial consultation is not a commitment to hire the lawyer who contacted you, nor is there any guarantee or obligation that you will continue to use that lawyer's services once your case is done.

Referral services can be useful if you are uncertain of where to look for a lawyer, but they do have their drawbacks when compared with contacting a law firm directly. With a referral service, you may have the right to screen the lawyers the service connects you to, but you do not get to choose them yourself – you only know who you will be dealing with after they contact you.

Directly approaching a firm like Lerners, on the other hand, allows you to research the firm's history and determine if they are a match for you before making the appointment.

Another drawback to a referral service is that it is up to the law firms they contact how many referral cases they take. Since good law firms tend to have no shortage of clients, this means that spots for referral cases may be limited in the law firm that can best handle your personal injury claim. By contacting a firm such as Lerners directly, you bypass this restriction, making it easier to get higher quality representation.

Another issue that arises when dealing with referral services is that the lawyers who might contact you do so based on the information that the service provides to them. The services themselves, however, do not necessarily have any lawyers on staff, and may not know what questions to ask prior to making the referral. This can leave important information about your case missing, adversely impacting your ability to get the legal representation you need (and in a worst-case scenario, wasting your time talking to multiple lawyers because of missing information). Talking to a lawyer at a firm such as Lerners, on the other hand, allows the lawyer to get the information they need about your case in the first meeting, properly facilitating your claim and compensation. This is one of the reasons that Lerners provides free initial consultations with one of our lawyers, either in our office or where you are located – our lawyers know what information they need and what questions to ask you to gain a full understanding of your case.

Lawyer referral services are useful, and can be a godsend to those who are too shy to contact a lawyer directly, or just don't know where to look. But if you aren't shy, or you do know what to look for in a law firm, you will find that there are significant benefits in contacting your lawyer of choice directly.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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