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You can waste an incredible amount of time networking with the wrong people, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and for the wrong reasons.
I recently had a 7-year associate at a client firm ask me for advice about networking. He recognizes that all the work he currently does is generated by the reputation of the firm’s 70-year-old founding partner. Unless he starts producing his own business, he will be an associate forever. And he isn’t at a point where he can open his own practice.
The challenge for this attorney with respect to networking is that he is extremely introverted and not much of a conversationalist. These attributes don’t automatically preclude him from effectively networking, but it does mean he must be very selective on where he spends his time and energy.
Below is a roadmap for maximizing the ROI if you choose to implement a networking strategy. I must be honest, networking is not my favorite marketing strategy, but it can produce well if done correctly. It simply requires planning, dedication, and repetition.
However, before making any investment in networking, it’s critical to answer two big-picture questions.
Who are your targets? i.e. Who can help you the most. This may be other attorneys, and perhaps a further differentiation between ones at different types of firms (e.g., large verses small, or litigation verses transactional). Alternatively, your best targets may be a certain type of non-law professional in a particular field (e.g., real estate agents), or a target which is at a certain point in his or her career (e.g., starting a new business or winding one down). Maybe it’s a person who attends certain legal or non-legal events. If you have corporate clients, targets may be found in other departments within the organization that could hire your firm, but currently use other counsel. In short, you must determine your best target audience for networking.
What do you enjoy doing and where are you at your best socially? This takes a little bit of self-evaluation, but can help steer you toward where your efforts will produce best. For example, I knew an attorney who started going to the Young Lawyers Section happy hours. He didn’t drink, had a stay at home wife with small children who deserved a break when he got home from work, and really needed to be connecting with senior partners. As expected, this was a bad use of his time. I would encourage you to give some thought to the following. Are you better one-on-one or in groups? Is there an area of your practice that you find particularly interesting, or where clients have a poor understanding of a legal issue that’s critical to their success? If you could pick one environment in which to meet a new contact or referral source, what would it be?
The answers to the above questions will prevent you from wasting time (money) and energy.
Once the above questions are answered, it’s time to plan your networking events. Below is a list of popular options, followed by an example of one of the most effective strategies I’ve seen:
ExampleI recently worked with a client who wrote an article about a very effective defense strategy created by a new law. The article was short and lent itself well to graphs and charts. We were able to get the article published on several relevant websites, including Law360 and one read heavily by venture capital firms – one of his best targets. After the article was published, we connected him with over 200 targets in LinkedIn. These mostly included in-house counsel for venture capital and angel investment firms.
A few weeks after connecting, we sent a short note via LinkedIn or email that basically said:
“Hi Elizabeth. I recently wrote this article about an underutilized legal defense to claims your company may regularly face and thought you may find it interesting.”
Of course, most people did not respond… but some did. And those responses produced conversations with the potential to turn into lucrative engagements for my client’s law firm.
What’s nice about something like this is that it is:
1.) Very targeted (The article was written for lawyers, but the connections to other professionals provided a second opportunity to approach prospective clients.)
2.) Uses a soft opening (Almost all LinkedIn users will accept a connection request from an attorney.)
3.) Takes very little time (Each message via LinkedIn requires about two minutes to customize. Of course, there are a ton of services that now generate LinkedIn messages automatically, but I prefer the personal touch of a custom note.)
4.) Requires no hard costs (Of course, time is money, but there is no actual dollar outlay.)
Networking as a client development strategy has taken a bit of beating at the hands of email, texting, and other advancements in communication. But there is still a place for it for attorneys who are willing to answer the above questions, put a plan in place, and be consistent in their approach to events.
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