As we get closer to the holiday season (yeah, they’ll be here sooner than you think), it means there will be more and more networking opportunities.  A lot of lawyers, including yours truly, are not always comfortable in every setting.  However, these events can be very important to developing business for one’s practice, and should not be avoided due to some discomfort.

I had initially overlooked a post by Mary Ellen Sullivan on Attorney at Work last month I think is pretty good and worth sharing.  It provides 10 suggested icebreakers by Debra Fine., the author of The Fine Art of Small Talk.  They are:

  1. “What is your connection to this event?
  2. What keeps you busy outside of work?
  3. Tell me about the organizations you are involved with.
  4. How did you come up with this idea?
  5. What got you interested in … ?
  6. What do you attribute your success to?
  7. Describe some of the challenges of your profession.
  8. Describe your most important work experience.
  9. Bring me up to date.
  10. Tell me about your family.”

Fine and Sullivan also suggest a number questions which might be considered too personal or problematic, which should be avoided.  No. 10 above might fall into that category depending on the situation, but obviously it is a judgment call.

Notice that the questions are open-ended. This should keep the other person talking, and that can help overcome any shyness.

Ran across an interesting article on JDSupra Business Advisor by Josh Beser. He offers good advice on how to follow up after meetings, so they don’t end up having been a waste of time. First, he tells a story about meeting with an unhappy associate and how he gave free advice. And then sometime later, not having heard anything in terms of a thank you or buzz off, he received an email requesting additional unrelated advice from the same attorney.

He was put off by the failure of a “follow up” by this young lawyer.  And, remarked that he would waste no more time with this person.  My sentiments exactly.  I too am asked and give free advice occasionally.  But, if I don’t receive some follow up (including a thank you), they’re off my list.

Although Beser’s advice addresses meeting follow up, he says, one “could adapt this framework for following up with people you meet” at networking events, but I gather he was primarily referring to one-on-one meetings whether in-person or by phone.

His suggestions and some of my thoughts include:

  • Take notes during your discussion. Obviously, that will be helpful in remembering the conversation and following up with the person. It also shows real interest in what the person is saying;
  • Follow up by email (and a handwritten note, I suggest).  I like his idea about make the email brief and easily readable on a smart phone. Yes, do both email and a note, start the latter with “Again, I want to take the opportunity to thank you……etc.”  Such notes have a real impact IMHO.
  • Include actions for each follow-up.  Not only should the email be brief and to the point, but it should include numbered action items and/or comments on points of interest discussed;
  • Save something for later. Hold back something to follow up with at a later time to keep the conversation going, and have a reason for contacting the person again, particularly if they did not respond.  The first time might have been bad timing on the recipients end, and they could have just overlooked your email among the myriad of emails we all receive; and
  • Schedule a three-week check-in. For some of the reasons above, follow up again.  As I tell the lawyers I coach, NEVER leave action items in the other person’s court.  Always, follow up.

Beser provides two examples of follow up emails, and they are well worth a read on how to follow up on meetings. And don’t forget to thank the other person for their time, sage advice, comments, or whatever.


P.S. Thanks to Dee Schiavelli for the heads up on this article via LinkedIn.

If you get work from other lawyers, you need to market L2L just like you would B2B or in any other manner.  I work with lawyers whose source of business – whether litigation, appellate practice, PI, or other niche practices –depends in part on referrals from other lawyers.  It is often their life blood for legal work.

If other lawyers are a meaningful source of legal work for your practice, you need to focus your business development activities with them in mind, as you would with any other of your prospects.  Sally Schmidt’s recent post on Attorney at Work provides helpful tips on marketing lawyer-to-lawyer:

  • Identify your lawyer-targets.  Quite simply, they are the lawyers who don’t do what you do.  They could even be lawyers in your firm (yes, look at marketing your service to your partners), or toward other firms that don’t provide your legal services;
  • Educate them about your practice. Let other lawyers know that their clients might be at risk, and how you might help them.  Find ways to not only educate the other lawyers, who could refer work, about your practice; but offer ways to educate their clients as well;
  • Network with lawyers. Just like clients hire lawyers they know, like and trust, lawyers who would refer their clients to you are no different. So, build relationships with other lawyers by networking where they hang out – at bar meetings (specifically committees/sections not full of competitors), and entertain at lunch or in other settings; and
  • Add value to their practice and clients.  This tip runs with educating your audience:
    • Look for opportunities to write for their blog, journal, newsletter or other venues;
    • Pull together a brief but informative piece about your practice for others to give to their clients; and
    • Offer to consult with their clients at no charge.

Remember, risks are involved for lawyers to refer you to their clients.   It is vital that you build solid relationships so they will know, like and trust that you will take VERY good care of THEIR clients.

Why not? Rainmakers never stop networking. Yeah, I know, its family time, and they should be your priority. No question about it.

However, vacation time doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t take advantage of networking opportunities that present themselves – on an airplane, at the beach, or yes, standing in line at a restaurant.

And, if such opportunities occur, it would be silly not to take advantage .  Merrilyn Astin Tarlton has 40 networking tips she posted on Attorney at Work this month I commend to your summer reading list.

A few of her tips I particularly like include:

  • Develop an effective elevator (or standing-in-line) speech or two, depending on your different target audiences (P.S. don’t start with “I’m a lawyer”;
  • Listen twice as much as you talk (remember the old saying that that is why we have two ears and only one mouth);
  • Ask smart, open-ended questions so you can learn more about the other person. Don’t waste time talking about yourself (you already know everything there is to know there);
  • Be selective about what networking events you attend (i.e., go where your preferred clients and prospects hang out); and
  • Smile and show genuine interest.

There’s more good stuff in Tarlton’s post, so do take a look. Networking needs to become a habit anywhere you are.

Lawyers know about networking, but most, except the real Rainmakers, don’t like it. It isn’t exactly like having a root canal to them, but they would rather be practicing law.  Nonetheless, the majority do recognize the need for it.

Roy Ginsburg has a post on Attorney at Work that talks about how networking is a numbers game and compares the undertaking to baseball.  His analogy to baseball is of course timely, as my beloved Red Sox just won the World Series (yes, I’m a real fan, who suffered all those many years growing up in the area).

Although Ginsburg is primarily focusing on networking for prospects, I prefer to concentrate on clients and referral sources, since they are the reason for 80-90% of legal work for lawyers (although the purpose is prospecting as well).  I like his four points:

  • Keep swinging.  Even with clients and referral sources, getting them to agree to a lunch or coffee sometimes is not easy, as they are busy people too.  I tell lawyers I coach to not give up easily.  Don’t take it personally, when they don’t immediately return your call or email about taking time out of their day.  Marketing is also a game of percentages;
  • Don’t get bogged down or in a slump. Eventually, you need to refocus your efforts, but not without giving it a major league effort (sorry, couldn’t resist).  I encourage the development of a quarterly contact list, and then reaching out in some manner (quick email, telephone call, and yes, even lunch) to each person on the list at least quarterly;
  • Network trade groups. Get actively involved in trade groups where your ideal clients hang out. That can be a certain bar association committee, if those lawyers are an important source of your referrals.  Like in baseball, it’s a game of contact….contact and more contact; and
  • Hang in there and be persistent.  No one said it would be easy.  From high school ball to the major leagues is not a walk in the park (I know, I need to stop this, but the analogy is valid).  It is hard work and takes time to become a legal major league player (rainmaker).

Hell, it took the Boston Red Sox 86 years to win another World Series.  And their hard work has paid off again!  Yours will too.

Of course they haven’t for several reasons:  no immediate need, forgot 80% of what you said in two days time, or didn’t remember you name, etc.  So, what’s a lawyer to do?

Continue to work at developing business day after day after day.  You won’t be hired, in most cases, after your first encounter.  Hell, maybe not after the 20th.  The point is that you have to stay top of mind with prospects (heck, even with clients), so they will call you when they need a lawyer like you.

Ruth Carter has a great post on Attorney at Work that tells a story about how she bought tires 18 months after meeting a guy she liked.  Why?  First, she didn’t need tires when she met him, and when she did, she bought them from him because she ran into the guy everywhere.  He showed up at “business mixers, community festivals, networking groups.” That’s what you need to do.

Aw, come on, you may say.  How does a lawyer’s services compare to selling tires.  You might even say, “remember that I gave an impressive speech about legal matters for goodness sake.”  Well, my good friend, wake up.  Developing business is a process, not a one shot deal. As Carter points out, she liked him when they met and got to know him over time, and came to trust him.

That’s exactly what lawyers need to do:

  • Show up;
  • Develop relationships so potential clients will get to know, like and trust you;
  • Make friends (both Carter and tire guy did not try to sell their wares when they met, but rather themselves over a period of time); and
  • Most importantly, (in case I forgot to mention it) show up at places your potential clients hang out.

If you want to gain clients, you’ve got to do the things that provide a lasting impression, so clients will keep you top of mind for when they need a lawyer. A speech or a one-time meeting won’t do it.

In response to the question “What do you do?”, saying that you are a tax lawyer, or employment lawyer or whatever is not a good reply.  More on that in a moment.

In the online ABA Journal: Law News Now this month, an article entitled “50 Simple Ways You Can Market Your Practice” by Stephanie Francis Ward provides some good tips that will help lawyers develop business. I really like many of them.  However, I take issue with one in particular.  I’m not being critical of the author, who is a journalist after all and not a legal marketer.  My guess is that she just got some bad advice somewhere.

My issue is with Tip “23.The best elevator speech? ‘Hi, I’m a lawyer.  What do you do?’” Although it appears to be a question, the tip comes across as a statement.  Or it is incomplete because it ends there.   IMHO that is the worst possible self-introduction a lawyer can make.  If the other person is not a lawyer, the conversation could very well come to a screeching halt.  Reasons vary, but might include: putting people off, some people simply don’t like lawyers (or maybe they’re jealous), feel less educated, or the statement simply comes across as arrogant, know-it-all or I’m smarter than the average bear, or whatever.  Sorry, but such an opening is just dumb.

Better to say something like, if for instance you are an employment lawyer representing companies, “I help employers avoid and resolve employee issues.” Which may lead to the obvious “How do you do that?”….and the discussion is underway, rather than shut down.

It is advisable to have more than one elevator speech, of course, depending on the circumstances and the audience.  But, it does take work and practice to develop an effective and meaningful one. Try them out on colleagues and friends.  It is best to delay disclosing your occupation until you’ve laid the groundwork as to how you help people with their problems.

More and more employers are finding that social media is an effective way to network. However it is not an excuse to sit at your desk and think that that is all there is to it. Social media can be and is for many an effective way to make friends connections and raise one’s profile. However, it doesn’t replace the need for, or quite frankly, compare to the effectiveness of the face-to-face networking. Let me repeat that social media does not replace the need for face-to-face networking.

As I have often said lawyers are in the personal services business. You can only be so personable via social media.  Nothing replaces the face-to-face encounter when it comes to building truly meaningful relationships. At some point you need to take those new “friends” you met on social media and enhance the relationship by face-to-face meetings.

An online article by Dan Schawbel last year in Time’s Business & Money section entitled “Why Face-to-Face Networking Still Trumps Social Networking” remains right on.  I particularly liked the quote attributed to Sherry Turkle, an M.I.T professor, on the “sad state of affairs” due to the over reliance on social media.  She said “we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection.”

A couple years ago I wrote a post entitled “Networking Requires Getting Off Your Duff!” which I still think is timely.  Also, it contains some common sense tips that might help you network face-to-face.  As I said at the time the tips are pretty straightforward, but we all need to be reminded occasionally on the kinds of things one needs to do in terms of networking.

Bottom line: don’t let social media replace the true benefits gained though face-to-face meetings.

One might ask how networking tips for brand new associates would be applicable to partners. Stick with me here, because in my experience there are many partners who know what they should have been doing in terms of staying in touch with former classmates, colleagues, people they’ve met, etc. but haven’t.  So, they could gain from Steven Taylor’s interview of Scott Westfahl, director of professional development at Goodwin Procter recently on Attorney at Work.

As Taylor points out, the old saying “It’s not what you know, but who you know” (1951, G. P. Bush and L. H. Hattery in an article on obtaining federal employment in Science magazine) is not applicable to lawyers, of course.  But don’t downplay the value of who you know, and who you know that can help you get legal work.

It’s what networking is all about. And Taylor’s and Westfahl’s tips can be helpful to any lawyer, since it is not taught as part of the core curriculum in law schools.  So, the networking tips mentioned include:

  • Keep in touch with law school classmates (and with college and high schools ones as well – surprising how that little nerd in junior high turned out to be very successful).  You should reach out and touch your contacts on a quarterly or least semi-annual basis to catch up and stay top of mind.  Don’t wait until you need their help with an introduction;
  • Identify groups of good contacts, and build those newer, external relationships as well;
  • Offer to help them with their goals (based on the idea “give to get”); and
  • Use social media as a tool (but don’t forget that networking is personal, and face-to-face meetings are still important).

New lawyers should not overlook the importance of maintaining and developing networks, just because they are busy learning the skills needed to be a good lawyer.  Nor should partners who have not got as effective a network as they would like, since it is not too late to reconnect with those former classmates and other contacts they have ignored for many years.

You may think that that is so obvious, that my mere mentioning it is dumb.  Not so fast.  Too many lawyers are into activities to be active…they think.  Some believe that by going to enough social events (online or otherwise), or business meetings, or community events that they will pick up work.  Maybe or maybe not.

Jamie Field on her Enlightened Rainmaking blog starts a post on the subject by telling a kindergarten joke to make a point ; to wit:  “Why do you go to bed at night? Because the bed won’t come to you.”  (yes, I did smile, Jamie.)  Her point is that it is important to go where you clients are.

She provides two simple suggestions:

  • Online.  Hang out and be social by contributing meaningful content (not just promote yourself, which happens too often on LinkedIn IMHO) on the social networks that your clients are involved in.  Join the right groups and raise your profile by listening and providing value to the discussions; and
  • In-Person.  Attend conferences, meetings, etc. that have the greatest potential for running into your clients and others like them (and good referrals sources, I might add).

That way you won’t lose sleep worrying about why your clients don’t come to you!