On Saturday I attended one of those Galas that every Bar Association puts on. They are an opportunity to get dressed up, dance a little, socialize and yes… network. Your firm buys a table and you fill it with your colleagues and their wives… and you mingle. OR do you?

Saturday night 40% of the seats were vacant! Entire tables without a guest, but what was there was a sign with the name of the firm who sponsored the table. How embarrassing is that! An entire table with your firm’s name on it and a giant announcement that no one bothered to attend. That is not the message you want to send to this legal community.

What’s at stake? Plenty!

1. Your firm’s reputation is at stake. It sends a message to the legal community that your firm is not reliable, doesn’t really care, is too arrogant to attend and the list goes on. Is this the way to build a brand… your firm’s reputation? Of course not. At any bar function there will always be judges and possible referral sources in the room… how do you want them to perceive you? I’m sure… as a firm that is supportive and a firm that does what they say they will do. So next time your firm commits to a table… think twice about the message you are sending.

2. The organization has to pay for food and drinks for people that are not in attendance… if you are really committed to the organization you should be outraged at the waste.

I know, you feel obligated to donate money to the organization and you think the sponsorship will buy you visibility. That’s the premise. If you don’t have an unlimited budget and your reputation is so strong that it could never be tarnished… I would suggest that you put a moratorium on buying sponsorships and tables. Here’s what you should do instead…

1. Figure out which Bar Associations your firm will commit to… I mean really commit to.

2. Decide in advance what events you will sponsor, set a budget for the year.

3. Before you commit to sponsoring a Gala event find out if a table comes with the sponsorship.

4. If it does and you can’t commit to attending… tell the organizer that you would like to support the organization but your firm will be unable to attend and you would still like to sponsor the event and have your name appear on the program. But would like the money they are spending on the table (food and drinks) to go to a special project, scholarship, or any other worthy endeavor.

If you are committed to the strategy, that this is the organization your firm should align with, then do what you have to do in order to reap the benefit. Fill the seats strategically…

1. Who in your firm needs to be visible to the people that are in attendance?

2. Should senior lawyers team up with junior ones so that they may make introductions?

3. Do you have a referral source that doesn’t generally buy a table? Then make an invitation to have them be your guest.

4. Identify objectives for the evening. Such as, list the people you want to make sure and say hello to.

5. Most importantly… Have fun and build relationships!

Make it your firm culture… if you commit your support, you show up!