The tag line on the website of Overture Law says, “Unlock hidden revenue in your practice.” But I think this actually undersells what Overture does. It is not so much that it helps you find revenue hidden in your practice, as that it helps you capture revenue you would never have had in the first place.
Most solo and small firm lawyers are fully familiar with the dilemma Overture aims to resolve. A client or former client comes to you with a legal problem outside your practice area or jurisdiction. You want to help the client to maintain that relationship, but you do not know another lawyer who fits the bill well enough to confidently make a referral.
Overture is a lawyer-to-lawyer referral platform that is designed to target this precise situation. It allows you to refer matters to vetted, qualified attorneys in various legal practice areas and ethically earn the associated referral fees.
It is a classic win-win: You have the satisfaction of helping your clients get the help they need and, at the same time, you generate extra income that you otherwise would have turned away at the door.
On top of that, when some other attorney in the network has that client come in with the matter they can’t handle, it just might get referred to you, and help grow your practice.
While there are other lawyer-to-lawyer referral platforms, Overture appears to be the first to place its focus on enabling the ethical sharing of referral fees among lawyers in smaller firms.
It was founded last year by Brian Liu, one of the original founders of LegalZoom and its chairman until 2018; Arya Firoozmand, a cofounder together with Liu of BizCounsel, a platform that provides subscription lawyers for small businesses; and Curt Brown, who was also a cofounder of BizCounsel.
Former founders and executives of LegalZoom also make up much of Overture’s advisory board, including LegalZoom cofounders Eddie Hartman and Brian Lee, its former general counsel Chas Rampenthal, its former vice president of legal and government affairs Ken Friedman, and its former vice president of attorney services Sally Robertson.
A Platform to Simplify Referrals
The idea for Overture came out of the pandemic, Firoozmand told me in an interview, when many solo and small firm lawyers were coming to BizCounsel asking for help in making referrals. They decided to build a platform that would make lawyer-to-lawyer referrals easier and that would facilitate the sharing of fees.
The platform allows attorneys to post referral requests and connect with vetted attorneys who meet the qualifications. It has billing features to make it easier to collect fees, trust accounting to manage client funds, and direct deposit of earned fees to both the referring and handling attorney.
“My philosophy in building this was that this is an additive platform to your practice – this doesn’t replace anything you’re currently doing,” Firoozmand said. “So I needed to make it as simple as humanly possible, such that even if our service team wasn’t here to help you at any point in the process, you could figure it out.”
No Charge to Join
Last January, Overture started bringing lawyers onto the platform, on an invite-only basis. More recently, it began marketing to lawyers more broadly and is now accepting applications from any lawyer who is interested in participating. Its target market is lawyers who bill hourly or on a flat-fee basis, not those who charge contingency fees.
When I last spoke to Firoozmand, the platform had more than 300 lawyers on it and the company was working around the clock to review several hundred more applications it had received. Its coverage is deepest in states with the largest population centers, he said, but not yet deep enough in any one practice area or state to turn away qualified applicants.
Overture reviews attorneys to ensure that they have at least five years’ experience in a practice area, no bar complaints, and no negative online reviews. Those who pass that review are then interviewed by Overture’s membership staff.
Firoozmand said that they are looking for attorneys who are not only qualified, but who will be responsive and client-focused.
“If we care about the quality of the referrals, the quality of clients that we share, if we treat other people’s clients as we would our own, then we have a great community,” he said. “So far, we’ve been able to keep that going.”
There is no charge for an attorney to join the network. Overture makes its money by taking a percentage of the fee paid by the client. The attorney who handles the matter gets 65% of the fee, the referring attorney gets 15% and Overture gets 20%.
To address ethical issues, Overture is set up as a law firm in California, operating as the co-counsel liaison between lawyers who want to refer cases to other attorneys in different states and practice areas, while complying with state ethics laws. All of the trust accounting is done through Overture’s affiliated law firm.
(To read more about the ethics of all this, visit Overture’s knowledge base, which provides guides to the referral fee rules in every U.S. state except Hawaii and Wyoming, where the rules do not permit it to operate.)
Platform Handles Referrals and Billing
Once attorneys are accepted as part of the Overture network, they get access to the platform, where they can post referral requests using a simple form. Referrals are posted for only two reasons: The matter is outside the attorney’s practice area or it is outside the attorney’s jurisdiction.
Attorneys who match are notified of the listing and can reach out to the referring attorney to express their interest. The referring attorney makes the decision about which attorney, if any, gets the referral, and the referring attorney makes the introduction to the client.
When an attorney accepts a referral through Overture, the attorney uploads the attorney’s engagement agreement to send to the client for signature. Overture automatically attaches its addendum that contains the necessary client disclosures to allow for ethical referral fees.
Attorneys who accept referrals track their time within the platform. The handling attorney then invoices the client through the platform to a trust account managed by Overture’s law firm. When the fees are earned, Overture directly deposits them to the referring attorney and the handling attorney.
“The handling attorney doesn’t have to worry about cutting checks, or any of that part of it,” Firoozmand said. “It’s automatically taken care of and their funds are direct deposited to their bank account.”
Firoozmand believes that the experiences of him and his cofounders with BizCounsel and LegalZoom have enabled them to build a platform that serves a critical need for solo and small firm lawyers in an age of virtual lawyering.
“It’s amazing for me when I see somebody post a referral on Friday morning, and by Friday afternoon they’ve gotten two, three folks, and by Friday evening it’s on its way. I mean, that experience is world class regardless of what firm you’re at.”
[Disclosure: Overture Law is a paid sponsor of my LawNext podcast.]