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Networking Online and In Person

Kristin Haugen, Allen Rodriguez, Anthony R. Minchella, Matthew S. Johnston, Tonya N. Gibbs, Ari Hornick, Jaimie B. Field

In the quest to expand your law practice, networking has never been more important. But networking today looks much different than it did only a few years ago. How much time should you devote to online and social media networking, and how much to old-fashioned, in-person interactions? What are the best sources of referrals in either realm? And how do you keep from stepping over the line ethically while pursuing new business relationships? To help answer these questions, GPSolo has gathered the insights of seven leading solos, small firm practitioners, and law firm consultants to give you a better understanding of how best to grow your business through networking.

Networking Beyond Your Neighborhood

By Kristin Haugen

It’s easy to grow and maintain connections with those who live and work near you. It is almost effortless to invite someone you see regularly to meet for coffee, to connect for lunch, or to go together to the latest CLE or bar association event. These are strong connections to be cultivated and valued, but think for a moment about the vast number of connections you are missing out on if you limit yourself to locals.

Forging a connection with someone whom you don’t see regularly can seem intimidating, overwhelming, and even fear-inspiring, but it doesn’t have to be. Those who are outside of your typical sphere can add great value to your network. It is worth taking a chance. To get started, try one of these approaches:

  1. Virtual coffee date. Consider what you would do if this person were local and create a similar experience. If you met Chris and found out you both work downtown, you might follow up over coffee. But what if you and Chris meet at a conference, hit it off, and then find out you live on opposite sides of the country? Instead of seeing distance as an obstacle, view it as an opportunity to show your creativity and add a personal touch. You could still invite Chris to meet up and talk over coffee. How would this work? A flight to Chris’s hometown is not in the budget. Instead, send Chris a brief note and a coffee gift card—“I enjoyed meeting you at the conference last month and would love to continue our conversation. Would you like to talk over coffee? I’ve enclosed a gift card to treat you to your favorite drink.” Suggest a date and time and don’t forget to specify the time zone.
  2. LinkedIn conversation. When was the last time you did something on LinkedIn beyond asking someone to connect and perhaps skimming through your daily feed? Try using the messaging feature to have a conversation with one of your connections. It avoids the hassle of scheduling a phone call and the formality of e-mail. You can enjoy all the benefits of text messaging, including an ongoing conversation-like dialogue, without divulging your personal cell phone number. If you get a new connection request, follow up and ask why this person wanted to connect with you and ask how you can help. For existing contacts, start a conversation by asking what is new, what they have been working on, or what they are looking forward to. Your options are endless. Once the conversation starts, you may be surprised where it leads.
  3. Picture them. You can video-chat to get that real-time live interaction, but some feel self-conscious appearing on video calls. Are you more comfortable with a traditional call, but sometimes your mind wanders? The next time you have a call, pull up the other person’s picture from their business website, LinkedIn, or through a search of the web. The image will trigger memories and will keep you more focused on whom you are talking to rather than allowing your eyes to wander to that bill that hasn’t been paid. During the conversation, try an old sales trick: smile. While they cannot actually see you, smiling changes your voice in ways that can be sensed by the other person.

Staying connected with those whom you don’t see regularly is easier than you think. Your connections will appreciate your creativity and the personal touch. Reach out to someone today.

Using Social Media to Augment In-Person Networking

By Allen Rodriguez

You already know that networking is key in growing your practice. Ideally, this means regularly attending legal and nonlegal networking events, joining your local chamber of commerce as well as some referral groups, and spending time nurturing your best referral sources over coffee or an occasional dinner. But, between dealing with existing client work, managing a practice, spending time with family, and pursuing your personal interests, you likely don’t have a lot of time to do this level of in-person networking on a regular basis.

That’s where social media comes in, not as a way to replace in-person networking, but instead to augment your off-line networking efforts so you can nurture existing referral sources and create new ones online with minimal time each week.

Social media basics. One way social media can augment your in-person networking is by providing insight into your target contact’s thoughts, travels, event attendance, and more. Social media also creates numerous channels to connect with new prospects and nurture existing ones. But don’t spread yourself too thin across social media networks. When starting out, focus on one or two for your particular target audience. Here are the main networks:

  • LinkedIn (linkedin.com): best for connecting with other business professionals and lawyers.
  • Quora (quora.com): best for conveying subject matter authority and experience in front of techies and entrepreneurs.
  • Facebook (facebook.com): best for consumer-facing attorneys who want to advertise to large audiences or for participating in online networking groups.
  • Twitter (twitter.com): best for reaching out to consumers and influencers (reporters, industry leaders, etc.) and to see what your desired contacts are thinking about.

Leveraging relationships. In today’s busy world, it is easy to put off callbacks and e-mails, but often a connection through social media will get you the response you are looking for. When attempting to connect with someone you’ve not had success with off-line, attempt to identify mutual friends or connections on social media and ask for an introduction. A response from your desired contact is almost guaranteed if an e-mail introduction is sent from a mutual friend.

Nurturing existing contacts. Regularly check on your contacts’ social media streams for insight into what’s going on with them at the moment and share something with them that is relevant. This could be something as short as a congratulatory note for some recent accomplishment or even sharing a news article that is relevant to your connection’s business. A simple note like this lets them know you care. This might serve as a prompting for a more meaningful dinner or coffee get-together.

Staying connected. After you attend a networking event, connect with new contacts on social media and send them a follow-up note as well. Send the note as soon as possible and be sure to include the event you met at and a brief reference to the topic of your conversation. Once a month, make an effort to reach out to at least two or three contacts of yours on social media and try to send them something of value. This could be a referral, another connection, a relevant news piece, or simply a note to let them know that you’re there to help them. These small things can go a long way in nurturing your referral sources and contacts.

Using social media can be fun, quick, and easy. You needn’t spend a lot of time using social media to augment your in-person networking, and it can even be fun. When you do this consistently, you’ll find that your social media interactions will prove just as valuable as your off-line networking interactions.

Do You Only Like Me on Facebook? Why Face-to-Face Interactions Still Matter

By Anthony R. Minchella

Facebook. LinkedIn. Instagram. Snapchat. They each mirror our everyday, face-to-face interaction. These apps have digitized our world. A good thing, right? Maybe.

Let’s take a look at our interaction with people on these various social media platforms. Someone posts a video or shares an article you find interesting. What do you do? You “like” it. Or you post a comment or emoji. Either way, you express your emotive reaction. Now let’s look at social interaction “back in the day.” (I swore I’d never use that phrase. . . .) One morning you read about a colleague’s case in the hard copy of your state’s legal newspaper. Maybe you drop her an old-fashioned note congratulating her on the favorable result. Later that week, you see your colleague at a bar function and tell her how much you “liked” the article. You share numerous “comments” about the article during a “conversation.” The difference between these interactions and those on social media is that you may touch the person (shake her hand or exchange a hug) and experience that person’s energy and reaction to your views. Others may even join in on the conversation. This face-to-face interaction is much more memorable than scrolling through your iPhone on Facebook or LinkedIn. Indeed, I submit, its better. It’s real. It’s human. It’s what we long for. I don’t know how many of you reading this article might share this feeling—but sometimes as I scroll through my social media pages commenting and liking away, I have this sense that it’s work. A little voice in my head says, “Lawyers must be active on social media to succeed at marketing.”

Let me share with you a real-world, undigitized social interaction that led to a now decades-old client relationship. Before law school, I was an office manager for a large New Jersey law firm where I was responsible for purchasing office supplies. In a cost-savings effort, I switched to a brand-new vendor started by two recent college graduates. A few years later, I moved onto law school and had no reason to keep in touch with the owners of the office supply vendor. But I never forgot how we had clicked professionally and personally.

Five years later, now a Connecticut attorney, I was passed on the interstate by a truck. The truck had the same unforgettably conspicuous logo (a horse grazing in a field) of the office supply vendor that had started out years earlier. I had no iPhone button to click back then to “like” the business’s success and expansion into the tristate area. So, as soon as I got back to my office, I called one of the owners in New Jersey. We spent some time catching up, and then I told him I wanted to represent them in Connecticut. He put me in touch with the Connecticut principal, and the company quickly became a client until it was purchased by a larger competitor. I still represent the Connecticut owner to this day. Would that have happened over LinkedIn or Facebook?

I will leave you with a more recent example. For years I admired the television commercials for what I thought was a small, but very successful, Connecticut contractor (turns out it is a $100 million company). Its owner lived in my town. The company did some work on our house and did an incredible job all around. I wanted to represent the company. Well, one day, I noticed the owner (who “starred” in all the commercials) at a local consignment shop. I walked up to him, extended my hand, and introduced myself as a lawyer in town who wanted to represent his business.

This interaction (in addition to meeting with him at his office and staying in touch via e-mail) manifested into a client relationship almost a year to the day after I introduced myself at the consignment shop.

The lesson: Reach out beyond your social media screens. Meet people. Experience the face-to-face interactions that form the lasting relationships humans desire. The law is about relationships among individuals and businesses. Marketing for lawyers should be about the same thing.

Building Your Practice by Joining Nonlegal Trade Associations

By Matthew S. Johnston

Alexis de Tocqueville said that Americans are joiners, we have associations for everything. Attorneys are inveterate joiners. To build our practices, we join the local bar association, the local chamber of commerce, or a chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). Attorneys might join a Business Networking International (BNI) group, a Rotary club, or other civic organizations. But attorneys often overlook the value of nonlegal trade associations (NLTAs).

Particularly if you are interested in developing a niche practice, NLTAs offer many opportunities for attorneys to network and generate business. NLTAs usually do not require members to be a practicing professional in that industry. However, before joining an NLTA, understand that business will not immediately flow. NLTA members will rightfully assume you joined to build your business, so join for the long term. Don’t just attend banquets or happy hours, but also go to learning events and volunteer to serve on event committees.

For example, my hometown of Frederick, Maryland, has a high concentration of graphic design and advertising/marketing firms. I joined the local chapters of AIGA (the professional association for design) and the American Advertising Federation. While my artistic skill is essentially nonexistent, I do admire the work of creative professionals. Yes, the industries overlap with my practice areas of copyright, trademark work, and general business law, but there are many more benefits of NLTAs.

  1. Exposure to the industry. Attorneys provide the best advice to clients when they know the clients’ business and industry. Knowing industry norms, jargon, and trends can help you anticipate legal issues and provide assistance to clients.
  2. A place to meet people on their terms. Most people are intimidated when meeting lawyers at their offices. But meeting other professionals at their events puts people at ease. Being authentically interested in their work, being humble, and taking the time to learn about their industry builds trust and ultimately develops clients.
  3. Educational opportunity. The law is a learned profession, but nothing says that learning is just about the law. Being part of a nonlegal community keeps me mentally fresh. NLTAs provide learning opportunities that broaden lawyers’ ability to provide services to clients and give attorneys the chance to teach to an industry. The subject matter of a learning session may have nothing to do with the law but everything to do with being a better lawyer in that industry.
  4. A wider audience. As a marketing tactic, nothing beats a personal referral. At the heart of any referral is the trust the referring person has in you. Building trust with NLTA members over the long term leads to clients and referrals. All but two of the trademark referrals I have received this calendar year have come from non-client professionals I met through NLTAs. I suspect this statistic will not change much in the coming years.

Not all practice areas lend themselves to NLTA membership as a business development strategy. But for those practices and target clientele where NLTAs make sense, membership can be a valuable personal and professional development mechanism.

 

Making Your Local Chamber of Commerce an Extension of You

By Tonya N. Gibbs

Completely out of my comfort zone and thrust into the world of “marketing” and “business development” as a sole practitioner, I had to develop a plan to grow my practice, and networking was at the top of the list. Finding networking opportunities was essential. I commenced with joining the local chamber of commerce.

Networking with the chamber of commerce. Chambers of commerce can offer tons of networking and speaking opportunities, including but not limited to: LeadShare, Business Builders, roundtables, ribbon cuttings, and sponsorships for events. I met several future clients by attending educational and informational events, as well as through relationships I developed participating in LeadShare and my involvement in other chamber activities. I found speed-dating events quite entertaining and met future clients at the same time.

Besides county and state chambers, I found great networking opportunities at chambers targeted at specific business owners in the community, dedicated to the development and growth of these businesses. My membership and participation in the events offered by those chambers have also resulted in great business relationships, connections, and clients.

Chamber LeadShare and other networking groups. Many chambers are connected to LeadShare, a networking group similar to BNI (Business Networking International). The objective of LeadShare is to build and develop relationships with the businesses and individuals in the group in order to pass referrals to people you know and trust. Typically, for each meeting, everyone has an opportunity to spend 30 to 60 seconds speaking about his or her business. Then the speaker of the day has 10 to 15 minutes to educate the group on the speaker’s business, or any other topic he or she selects.

Other networking groups I have participated in offer monthly opportunities to meet with multiple individuals without a commitment to the group. Some are set up as monthly breakfast or lunch meetings. Others are closed groups and require a commitment, regular participation, and accountability.

In my experience, networking groups can provide supportive environments where a business can share and convey its sphere of influence and how its services can benefit the people in the room. I have developed great relationships and seen immense growth in my practice as a result of the relationships and people I have met through LeadShare and other networking groups. New clients have not only come from members of the groups, but visitors have become clients and have also been a great source of referrals.

Building relationships through speaking engagements. I must admit public speaking was not high on my list of favored aspirations. I was skeptical and very hesitant to pursue speaking engagements until I was thrust into one by a good friend who literally said, “This is your topic, here is the program, and the event is in three weeks.” Despite my hesitance, speaking engagements have turned out to be great networking opportunities. Frequently I am able to engage with the participants during breaks between speakers. I get the most benefit when I am able to stay until the end of the events.

Speaking engagements put me in front of potential clients and give me an opportunity to display my expertise and build a rapport with the participants outside a formal office setting. Speaking engagements also have become an avenue for more speaking opportunities and a source of new clients that I may not have otherwise been able to access.

Conclusion. Building relationships and making connections through the chambers of commerce and other networking groups have proven to be a worthy investment of my time and resources. Utilizing networking groups can provide an extension of you and your business in a variety of places; whether you are present or not, you have 20 to 30 individuals (or more) promoting your business for you. What a great resource to have in your marketing tool belt.

 

The Importance of Persistence in Networking

By Ari Hornick

Would you make a referral to an attorney about whom you know nothing? Hopefully, the answer is no. Is meeting someone once and exchanging business cards an adequate basis for a referral? Again, the answer should be no. At the very least, you need to trust that the person will provide competent services.

But competence probably isn’t enough. Could you say, “Call Ms. X. She’s rude and arrogant, but she’ll do an okay job”? That sounds ridiculous, and the person probably won’t call.

Are we simply looking for competent, friendly attorneys? Would you make the referral if you didn’t trust the person? Definitely not. Imagine saying, “Call Mr. Y. He’s kinda sheisty, but he makes great conversation.” Please, tell me you would never make that referral.

If there is an attorney whom you know, like, and trust, you can say, “Try Ms. Z. She’s friendly, and you can trust her to do good work.” When you make a referral like that, you don’t feel that it’s going to come back to haunt you. You simply have confidence that you’ve made a great connection between a good attorney and a potential client. Win-win.

The question is, how do you become Ms. Z? How do you become the attorney that people know, like, and trust? The answer is patient, persistent networking.

We’ve all heard (or should have heard) law school career counselors talk about networking to land your first job. The basic idea was a three-step plan: (1) Meet a lot of attorneys. (2) Make a good impression. (3) Eventually, one of them will offer you a job or recommend you for a job.

It’s a little different as an attorney looking for new clients. The updated version is: (1) Meet a lot of people, but don’t spend too much time around a lot of attorneys unless you’re looking for contract work. (2) Make a good impression. (3) Repeat.

The third step is the most important. If you meet someone once, you probably can’t say that you know, like, and trust the person. You probably can’t say all that after meeting the person even two or three times. Legal problems are intense and personal, and you must have a lot of confidence in someone to trust him or her with that part of your life. It takes time to build this type of personal relationship. You might go to a breakfast club or participate in a gaming group for six months before someone gives you a referral.

Can you expect someone to give you a referral or hire you for contract work after meeting you once? No. Sure, it could happen, but you shouldn’t expect it. More likely, you need to meet that person over and over. You need to talk about a variety of subjects. This is how the person comes to like you. This is how the person learns whether to trust your judgment and or trust you at all. (Hint: If you’re talking about law all the time, you’re not making progress. Not many people want to read an encyclopedia cover-to-cover, and not many people want to talk to one, either.)

I know a lot of people enjoy living online these days. That’s fine. You can meet new people on Twitter or in the comments section of your favorite blogs. Your favorite hashtag or blog is a great choice because you already have a common interest in the subject. But the same rules apply: (1) Meet. (2) Make a good impression. (3) Repeat.

Bottom line: Your networking is only as effective as it is persistent.

 

The Ethics of Networking, On- and Off-Line

By Jaimie B. Field

I always teach the lawyers whom I coach that Rainmaking = Relationships, and networking is one of the best tools that lawyers can use to create and foster relationships.

Each of the authors in the sections above has provided you with ways to begin to create and further relationships with prospective clients, referrals sources, and clients. However, each of these ideas and techniques comes with the potential of violating the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct (herein known as the RPCs) if you are not careful.

While each state has its own rules for professional conduct, some stricter than others, the RPCs provide a good starting point for understanding what you can and cannot do while networking both on- and off-line.

For example, did you know that something as seemingly innocuous as your business card is subject to the rules on Information about Legal Services (RPCs 7.1 to 7.5)?

In most cases, business cards aren’t subject to the RPCs if they only contain your name, firm, address, and other pertinent information needed to get in touch with you. However, many attorneys now use their cards as mini-brochures. They may include taglines or other information that may violate the rules.

Including information that is false or materially misleading about the attorney’s services on an attorney’s business cards violates RPC 7.1. Even truthful but misleading statements are considered unethical:

A truthful statement is also misleading if there is a substantial likelihood that it will lead a reasonable person to formulate a specific conclusion about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services for which there is no reasonable factual foundation. [Comment on Rule 7.1(2)]

This means that having a tagline on your business card that says “I get the highest awards in personal injury cases” would be considered a breach of ethics as you cannot prove from that statement that it is true, and even if it is, you are creating an unjustified expectation for your services.

Further, although you are allowed to communicate that you practice in a certain area of law, RPC 7.4 defines how you can do this. While the comments to RPC 7.4 state that you may use the terms “specialize” or “specialist,” most states will not allow it as this may be considered “false and misleading” under RPC 7.1.

Even when not using printed materials (e.g., your business card), you still can violate many ethics rules when on the networking circuit.

RPC 7.3: Solicitation of Clients:

A lawyer shall not by in-person, live telephone or real-time electronic contact [emphasis added] solicit professional employment when a significant motive for the lawyer’s doing so is the lawyer’s pecuniary gain. . . .

This means that at a networking event or even online in a social networking site, you are not allowed to pitch your services, save for some exceptions listed in the rule. When you attend a networking event, or an association event, the purpose is not to sell your services but to create relationships.

But the “Information about Legal Services” rules (RPCs 7.1 to 7.6) are not the only ones that can be violated. Many other rules you would not think of can also be violated while networking on- and off-line.

RPC 1.18: Duties to Prospective Clients:

A person who consults with a lawyer about the possibility of forming a client-lawyer relationship with respect to a matter is a prospective client.

What often happens at networking events or on social-networking sites is that once people learn that you are an attorney, they may inevitably say, “Oh, I have an issue that I think could be a lawsuit,” and they begin to launch into the facts of the case.

The comments to RPC 1.18 state:

a consultation is likely to have occurred if a lawyer, either in person or through the lawyer’s advertising in any medium, specifically requests or invites [emphasis added] the submission of information about a potential representation without clear and reasonably understandable warnings and cautionary statements that limit the lawyer’s obligations, and a person provides information in response.

By allowing people to provide the details of their case to you, you could be creating an inadvertent attorney-client relationship. Worse is if you provide information to these people and they have an adverse effect based on reliance of that legal advice.

RPC 1.6: Confidentiality of Information:

A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent, the disclosure is impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation or the disclosure is permitted by paragraph (b).

It is so tempting while at a networking event, or even when using social media, to discuss your cases. It is what you are working on currently, and some may ask you about it. However, the hallmark of our profession is that we have our clients’ trust. This rule was designed to keep us from breaking that trust.

This duty to protect the privileged information with current clients (1.6) is also covered in RPC 1.9 with respect to former clients and RPC 1.18 with respect to prospective clients.

Networking online has even more danger zones. For example, unless you are licensed to practice in all 50 states, you could violate RPC 5.5: Unauthorized Practice of Law. Posting legal information on networking sites without explaining that the laws only apply in specific states breaches this rule.

Although the word “networking” is never used in the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, the facts are that many of the RPCs apply to the relationships you are either trying to form or deepen, whether online or in person.

Rainmaking = Relationships, but that doesn’t mean you have to violate the ethics rules to become a successful rainmaker.