We know you throw your heart into your practice. But even if you work long hours, spin killer arguments to win your cases, and become so beloved by your clients they never again tell a lawyer joke, you still can’t just expect that others will find you.
This is why we market ourselves, getting our names out in ways that are sometimes productive and tasteful and sometimes . . . well, make lawyers jokes into an in-house activity.
But if you’re figuring out how to hire both a CGI artist and a rapper to create your next commercial spot, make sure you’re also investing in a different style of self-marketing. This is a technique much older than CGI, and even older than blond mullets. Some even say it’s central to the way we function as a species.
We’re talking about networking. The word carries the same ugly-jargon aura of ‘synergy’ and ‘proactive,’ but behind the buzzphrase is a simple activity: building relationships with others.
We’re social animals, and we have always relied on each other to get things done. Networking is a skill you’ve been honing since you learned that when you were thirsty you could ask someone for wa-wa. For adults, networking isn’t just for the appetizers-and-cocktails crew: social scientists have shown that the practice is even a key survival skill for drug-dealers.
And for an attorney, networking can be the difference between moving on up and going belly-up. Building the right relationships will get you a job, help you keep it, and allow you to continually grow your practice.
Below is a list of best networking practices for attorneys to use in one-on-one meetings, events, online, and elsewhere. We’ve broken the process down into easy steps that anyone can do. But remember: it takes more than a check-list to build connections with others. You don’t have to be naturally charming or gregarious, but networking is a living artform, founded in warmth, curiosity, and generosity.
Networking At Events
Research! Get a guest list before you attend a business event, so you can see if there are people you definitely want to meet. Consider sending a message to them before the event, telling them you’d appreciate the opportunity to meet them in person.
Then do your homework. Look online to see what those people do, so you don’t waste your time together asking things you could have found out for yourself. Use your new knowledge as a jumping-off point for deeper conversation.
Utilize the Hosts. The staff members of the organization hosting the event are likely to have an idea who you should know. Ask them to introduce you.
DO Talk to Strangers Remember how at middle-school dances the groups of girls that stayed in a tight huddle during the slow songs never got asked to dance? Instead of spending the entire time catching up with people you already know, ask friends to introduce you to the kind of people you’d like to meet. Offer the same service to them. Then fly the coop, leave your group, and meet new people.
In the same vein: instead of buying a table at an event, have your firm buy seats at different tables so you’ll meet new people.
Ask Event Organizers to Be a Greeter. If you have a specific role to greet others, you’ll feel more confidence to approach people. And others will appreciate it too. Though some natural extroverts love walking into a room of strangers, most dread the moment. They’re bound to look kindly on someone who immediately notices them and approaches them warmly.
Even if you’re not a greeter, utilize the same benefit by coming early so you’re one of the first people that others meet.
Who Are You? Don’t introduce yourself with your title – give a brief description of what you do.
Groups are Fair Game. Jump into group conversations, but don’t butt in when only two people are having a tête-à-tête.
Strategic Positioning. If you’re uncomfortable and looking around for a good place to stand, locate yourself near the goodies to maximize chances of meeting others. This could be a table of food or the bar.
Make Introductions. You don’t have no know someone well to introduce them to others that enter the conversation. Good ‘introducers’ create a sphere of comfort around them that others will gravitate toward. It’s also the ideal place to throw in a genuine compliment, like “This is Brenda, who’s doing really exciting work with ________.”
You were saying? Of course you shouldn’t interrupt others. But go further – if someone else is interrupted, return the attention to them when the interrupter is done. They’ll appreciate your attention and many will notice your courtesy.
Have fun! Serious panel discussions can only get you so far. To move a group of networks into an actual community, you’ll need positive experiences together. Consider hosting your own events. Think of something you like doing, and invite your new associates to enjoy it with you!
One-on-one Networking Tips
Though events can be a good space to quickly find new people you want to meet, it’s a bit like speed dating. It won’t go far without a little follow-through. When you’ve figured out who you need to know, invest some time in a face-to-face conversation.
Schedule it in. Don’t wait until your practice is slow or you have an official networking event to meet people. Make it a regular weekly practice to connect with two or more people who could potentially send clients your way.
Reconnect. Networking doesn’t always mean meeting new people. There may be some low-hanging fruit in the form of reconnecting with others whose relationship has gone dormant.
Focus on Your Contemporaries. Because more established attorneys generally already know who they’ll refer clients to. But also:
Remember Mentors. Don’t forget the professors and others who helped you get where you are. Invest in that relationship, and always be on the look-out for others who may be willing to take you under their wing.
Find the superconnectors. A brief analysis of your current professional relationships and friendships will probably reveal a pattern: there are a few key people who brought most of them into your life. These are superconnectors, the talented matchmakers of the professional world. Keep your relationship with your superconnectors strong, and always be on the lookout for others like them.
Take a Walk? Though ‘doing lunch’ or grabbing coffee are the standard meet-ups, don’t be afraid to be a little creative. One new trend among office workers who are too often sedentary is meeting up to go on a walk through an enjoyable setting. With someone very busy and experienced that you want to meet, you might ask if you can swing by their office with coffee some time: if they prefer to leave their desk they’ll tell you, and otherwise they’ll appreciate that you’re working to not be a time-sink to them.
Have Goals. The more you know about what you want out of the meeting, the more confident you’ll be. One key goal, however, should always be to make the other person feel respected and valued, rather than feeling like a tool you’re using to get what you want.
Always Ask the Golden Questions. According to Julie Robinette, author of How to Be a Power Connector, there are Three Golden Questions which you should ask before ending any one-on-one meeting:
How can I help you? Show to others from the start that you’re not just mining them for resources: you’re interested in making this a two-way relationship.
Do you have any ideas for me? You can get a lot from this question, and yet it doesn’t carry the gimme-gimme vibe of a lot of schmoozing. People often like to be asked for their ideas — it makes them feel valued as an authority.
Who else do you know that I should talk to? This can exponentially expand your network. Plus, when you contact those others, you’ll be able to mention the name of the person who recommended them, to show that you’re someone worth talking to. Often, even if someone can’t ever be directly helpful to you, another person in their network can.
Networking on Social Media
Even the stodgiest of firms are now hunting for good Twitter handles. Embrace social media! (But keep in mind the legal and ethical considerations being hammered out when it comes to new media.)
Tweet Between 1-3pm. This is the time to get the most clicks. You can even schedule tweets to post in the future, but be careful if you’re going to be working then. It can look bad if you appear to be tweeting in the middle of something important.
Join the blawgosphere. Add a blog to your website.
Endorse Others on LinkedIn. Take time once a week to recommend people you’ve worked with and respect. They’ll appreciate and remember the favor.
Keep It Professional. Create a separate professional account on Facebook. There’s no reason for links about interested cases to be directly adjacent to the quiz results showing Which Harry Potter Character You Are.
But Allow It to Be Lively. Consultants often recommend following the Social Media Rule of Thirds: one-third of your posts should be about your personal brand, and one-third should be thought-provoking posts on issues in your industry generally. The remaining third is left for you to show your personality. Post things that fascinate you or that you find beautiful, or crowd-source questions that people like to answer (like “What are your favorite rock-climbing locations? I’m looking forward to a climbing vacation soon!”).
Know the Settings. Facebook privacy settings are constantly changing. Ensure that you get as wide of a coverage as you want with your posts (and no wider) by regularly checking the settings.
Yelp! At the end of a case that has gone well, say to your satisfied client: “I really enjoyed working with you — I’d love to have more clients like you. Would you be willing to fill out a Yelp! review about me?” If they say yes, show them where they can go online and how to fill one out.
Other Networking Ideas
Volunteer. Volunteer legal work can allow you to meet many others and earn their trust. If it’s an area that interests you and engages your passions, it can provide a source of inspiration and meaning in your life. But even when you find yourself uninspired, do the work to the best of your ability.
School. If you enjoy teaching, consider offering your services at continuing legal education seminars, free schools, and community colleges. Adjunct professor work is another great way to connect with people who can be future referrals.
Be Yourself! Yes, to network well you have to be liked, but that doesn’t mean pretending to be an adult version of the high school prom king. There are a lot of qualities that can be liked. People can even like a curmudgeon like Bill Murray or Simon Cowell when they feel they are authentic and trustworthy.
But one thing that nobody likes is the feeling that someone is putting on a mask, not being genuine, and can’t be trusted.
It’s Not Always About You. People are bored by a braggart. On the other hand, being curious about others and giving them space to talk can do a number of things: you’ll get a sense of whether you want to develop a closer relationship with them, you’ll learn from them, and they’ll have a positive sense about you. When you find someone who seems like a generous person themselves, find ways to do them a favor. Let them benefit from your other connections. Refer potential clients to generous lawyers you trust (and let them know that you did).
Hone Your Reputation. Nobody is perfect, but decide what your key values are, and stick with them, always. A reputation is the best marketing tool — and it can be destroyed by only one mistake.
Networks are often built slowly, person-by-person. When you begin, you may feel like a lot of your meetings are a wash, and you’re not going anywhere. But if you continue meeting new people consistently, in time you’ll find you’ve woven a nest of professional friends who know and respect you, and are willing to help you out.
And that’s arguably even better than seeing your CGI face nodding along to a rap of your name.