Steven C. Bennett is a partner in the New York City offices of Jones, Day and can be contacted at scbennett@JonesDay.com. The views expressed are solely those of the author.
On this day and age, how many of us stick with our first career our entire lives? Many of us will experience at least two or three career moves in a lifetime. And many lawyers start out working in a completely different field.
For second-career lawyers, business development (finding and keeping clients) can be particularly difficult. But as for all lawyers, the key to business development for second-career lawyers is networking. True networking takes focus and persistence. You can use this article as a guide to get started and stay on track.
You Can Do This
As a second-career lawyer, you may be getting a later start than some lawyers, but you also have many advantages in the networking game:
- You’re focused; you know what you want.
- You’re mature and stable.
- You have gravitas/presence and the credibility that life’s experiences can bring.
- Your network of friends, acquaintances, and colleagues is also more mature and better placed to help you.
- You’ve already built up a reservoir of “good will” in many quarters.
Recognize and use these natural advantages whenever possible.
Figure Out What You Want
Like any project, effective networking requires planning. Unfocused or misfocused networking may be as ineffective and dispiriting as no networking. Answer the following questions. Putting them on paper will help.
- Who are your ideal clients? Who has need of your services (and can pay for them)? What kinds of individuals and organizations would you find interesting and pleasant as clients?
- Who does your existing network include? Is there any overlap with your picture of the “ideal” client? Can any of your current contacts provide connections to ideal clients or mentor you in this effort?
- What do you like to do when you’re not working directly on client matters? Teaching? Writing? Speaking? Organizing a group? Organizing events? Effective networking requires dedication; you will not show such dedication to potential clients unless you like what you do.
- Develop your “story,” résumé, and other marketing materials (such as articles and white papers). When you encounter a new contact, be prepared to briefly explain your background and interests.
- Carry business cards everywhere you go.
- Ask for help within your firm, your community, your family, and any group, school, employer, or other organization with whom you have positive relations. Make sure your current contacts know your “story,” at least in outline form, and give them a picture of the professional contacts you hope to develop.
- Cast a wide net at first. Try as many networking avenues as you can imagine, and then concentrate on the ones that really work for you.
- You don’t need to spend a lot of money. Don’t lock yourself into an expensive or time-consuming activity, like membership in some “exclusive” club, unless you’re sure it will bear fruit and that you will enjoy the experience. High-profile contacts that “look good on paper” may never pay off. But your child’s pre-school parent group, your church choir, or a fan you met at a ball game can be a source of business.
- Do a little bit of networking every day. Think of ways to make it fun and interesting. In this way, networking can be a welcome break from the nitty-gritty of everyday work instead of a chore.
- Close the deal. When you encounter a good contact, follow up. Sustain communication. Listen to the prospective client’s needs. Research the client’s industry and circumstances. Be helpful, even when you can’t do work immediately for the client. Offer referrals, career (and even personal) advice, and introductions to your circle of acquaintances.
- When you get work, do your very best. Return phone calls; meet deadlines; work efficiently.
Beware Ethics Traps
Legal professionals must follow special rules in soliciting and representing clients. Learn these rules as they apply in the jurisdictions where you practice. Build the rules into your networking practices. These are just a few:
- Don’t accept work for which you are incompetent. Seek assistance or make a referral.
- Check conflicts. (If you’re in a law firm, make sure you know and use the firm’s system).
- Clarify relationships. Make sure that contacts know you cannot advise or represent them without some formalities (such as an engagement agreement). If you are in a firm, make sure that firm’s managers are aware of your client development efforts.
- Use mass communications with caution. “Social networking” systems may permit you to reach wide groups of potentially valuable contacts. But they also can get you into trouble if you are not careful. In certain jurisdictions, you could face penalties for practicing law without a license in jurisdictions outside your own, creating conflicts (with contacts who may think that by communicating with you they have become your clients), or engaging in unauthorized solicitation or attorney advertising (by mentioning your attorney status and firm affiliation on a Web site or in other communications).
Maintain Your Network
Create and maintain lists of clients, contacts, and persons/institutions of interest to your practice. Keep track of how often you communicate with your network (with individuals and en masse). Look for efficient ways to keep in touch, such as invitations to events you may host or your own “practice update” newsletter. Make sure that your contacts know of your professional accomplishments and of your continued interest in service.
– “A Skeptic’s Guide to Networking: Some Assembly Required” (downloadable article). 2009. PC # 17101003304PDFA05. Division for Bar Services.
– To order online, visit www.ababooks.org