GPSOLO July/August 2010
How to Network
By James L. Schwartz
Much has been written about networking and the benefits derived from it. Networking is another word for marketing—the marketing of yourself and your services to others. This article will present an overview of some effective networking techniques for those wishing to network themselves and their services. The article will also provide some thoughts to consider in developing a networking plan.
First and foremost, it is important that lawyers only use networking techniques with which they are comfortable. We have all seen late-night television commercials by attorneys that look pretty cheesy. Not every lawyer is effective at presenting him- or herself in that kind of medium, and it may not produce the desired results. Lawyers should carefully think through the various networking opportunities available and use only those that will effectively convey their message to their preferred audience.
How much time should you spend networking? Although there is no clear-cut answer, many say that 30 percent of your day should be devoted to networking/marketing. This includes time spent at networking meetings or on bar association matters. Like anything else, invest your time wisely to achieve the maximum referrals possible and justify your time investment.
Although 30 percent of your day sounds like a heavy commitment, networking does not have to be burdensome or inconvenient. Virtually any activity involving interaction with others can be viewed as networking. A round of golf with two or three clients or potential clients, lunch or dinner with a prospective client or another attorney in your practice area, a tennis match, or a shared bicycle ride all could be considered networking and can result in referrals. At a bare minimum, always have your business card with you, and if the opportunity arises, give it to the others. You may also wish to have some brochures about you nearby in case the opportunity arises. Lawyers never know where their next matter will come from. By placing yourself “out there,” you give yourself the best chance for maximum exposure. Never get discouraged. Referrals may not happen that day or even the next month, but continued exposure should ultimately provide positive results.
So, what are some of the networking techniques that attorneys use to gain exposure?
Bar associations. Most every bar association has committees you can join. These committees often cover the range of practice specialties and practice settings. The ABA has sections for most of the substantive areas, and each of these sections has committees devoted to particular subject areas. For example, the Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Section has several real property committees (both litigation and transactional), several trust and estates committees (both planning and administration), as well as other committees that concern many general issues. The ABA also has divisions organized around particular practice settings, and each of these divisions has its own committees where an attorney can get involved. For example, the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division (GPSolo) hosts a Real Estate Law Committee and a Business Opportunities and Commercial Law Committee, among many others. A lawyer can join any of these committees and get known by the other members. At times, these committees may either write position papers on subject matters, put on CLE seminars, or meet to discuss a particular issue. By getting involved in one or more of these activities, the lawyer can (1) meet the other members, (2) get involved in the committee’s work, (3) express interest and expertise in that subject both orally and in writing, and (4) let others know that he or she is interested in referrals from committee members on that or related topics. Moreover, the interpersonal relationships that develop between that lawyer and other committee members also enable the lawyer to get other referrals and other business opportunities.
Opportunities are also present for the attorney to get known by writing articles for bar publications. As the editor of the GPSolo Division’s Law Trends and News e-newsletter, I have been told by several authors that they were “Googled” because of their article and then received a referral on the topic—in some cases several years after the article was published.
Aside from the ABA, vast networking opportunities also exist through state and local bar associations. For example, the Chicago Bar Association has committees on most substantive areas. Most have a monthly luncheon meeting. Many of these meetings have a speaker or a roundtable discussion on a hot topic. Most of these committees also allow newbies to introduce themselves and speak for a minute or so about themselves. I have recommended to many young attorneys and law students that they pick one or two committees they are interested in and attend the monthly luncheon with their résumé, especially if they are seeking a full-time job or a summer position. As with all networking opportunities, you never know where it will lead. Just keep trying and never get discouraged.
Civic organizations. Chambers of commerce, Lions Clubs, Rotary Clubs, etc., meet periodically and can expose you to other members both individually and in a group setting. Volunteering either to chair or to work on a project such as a fund-raiser or community drive—or even better, getting elected into a leadership position—will provide you further exposure and give you the opportunity of getting acquainted with others in the organization.
Places of worship. Getting involved in the workings of your church, synagogue, mosque, temple, etc., will allow other members to get to know you. There are ample opportunities to volunteer in this setting, some of which may require you to use your legal skills. For example, issues develop regarding the hiring of a pastor or rabbi. These often require contract negotiations, contract preparation, and the like. Even if you do not wish to get involved in the legal issues, volunteer opportunities can include social activities, outings, and adult education classes. Again, all of these will give you the chance to interact with others and have them get to know you.
Networking and business referral groups. Many groups have been created solely for business referrals. Groups such as LeTip, BNI, and Leads have chapters throughout the United States. These groups usually meet weekly with the sole purpose of exchanging business referrals. Generally, each chapter allows only one person in a given category—one real estate attorney, one real estate broker, one property and casualty insurance agent. Weekly, members give a one-minute presentation of what they do and the types of leads they would like to get. This is an excellent opportunity for lawyers both to improve their speaking skills and learn to state in one minute what they do and the types of matters they seek. Members usually are also permitted to visit other chapters and give their one-minute summary. The passing of business cards is required, and members may also distribute other information about themselves, such as brochures and résumés. Although not part of the official agenda, interpersonal relationships also develop among the members, naturally leading to new potential business sources.
Social networking online. All of the networking opportunities discussed above involve face-to-face meetings. Of course, such meetings are vital to the development of an attorney-client relationship because they foster the development of trust and strong interpersonal relationships. But there are also virtual networking opportunities available online, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Plaxo. Although these networking sites will never take the place of face-to-face meetings, they do allow you to tell other lawyers and potential clients not only who you are and what you are doing, but also what you plan to do in the future, and they let you share your ideas and seek feedback and input. Of course, this activity could also develop relationships that may result in face-to-face meetings or the exchange of business referrals. Each of these online groups requires that you set up a free account, but once you develop your network, one e-mail about an idea or an upcoming event in your life can be sent to everyone. In turn, you save an immense amount of time while also sending a broad message to clients and colleagues.
Written materials. Lastly, I’m often asked what kinds of written materials lawyers should prepare when networking. In my typical lawyerly way, my answer is: It depends. The circumstances will dictate what you should have. At a minimum, you need something with your contact information, such as a business card. You may also want to have a small brochure that more fully describes your practice areas and the types of matters you handle. A more extensive brochure, which you can use when you are a speaker, may include some of your cases and decisions, or even writing samples (just make sure you secure the necessary permissions to reproduce and distribute such samples).Conclusion. Networking opportunities are vast and are limited solely by your ingenuity. Many opportunities exist for getting your message out to others. In short, just do it. However, do not become frustrated if you do not get immediate results. It sometimes takes a lot of time and continued hard work.
James L. Schwartz practices real estate law in Chicago, Illinois, and is the editor of the ABA General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division’s Law Trends and News e-newsletter. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.