April 14, 2020 Best of ABA Sections

How an Introvert Can Build a Thriving Practice

Anne Collier

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Jamie is a newly minted partner with a demonstrated expertise in public utilities. Jamie has published several articles and occasionally speaks at conferences. Along with partnership came pressure to step up business-building activities. A slight panic sets in.

A bit reserved, Jamie enjoys interesting professional development events but dreads the seemingly endless networking sessions requiring idle chitchat. And converting a complete stranger to a client prospect is way out of Jamie’s comfort zone.

Jamie seeks the counsel of a more senior colleague, Sandy, who has been successful in developing business despite the fact that, like Jamie, Sandy also prefers introversion. Both prefer to reflect, think, and analyze. This is not uncommon for lawyers and, in fact, is an asset. A critical difference between extroverts and introverts is that while extroverts are usually energized by talking with others on a wide range of topics, introverts find most chitchat boorish at best. Introverts want to engage in an interesting, more meaningful conversation as quickly as possible. And introverts prefer time to prepare before social activities and need recovery time afterward.

Sandy is sympathetic to Jamie’s plight. Having shared similar apprehensions years ago, Sandy welcomes the opportunity to mentor a more junior partner. Sandy wants Jamie to know that preferring introversion is an advantage to be leveraged.

Choose multiple strategies. Sandy explains that successful business development requires multiple strategies and that selecting a few from the list below that are a more natural fit for Jamie’s preference for introversion increases the likelihood of success:

  • Writing client alerts and short articles for firm publications or social media.
  • Offering expertise in media interviews with legal journals and trade publications.
  • Writing longer articles and book chapters.
  • Investing in relationships with potential and current clients.
  • Getting involved with bar associations.
  • Presenting at conferences.
  • Hosting conferences or volunteering at them.
  • Building relationships with institutional clients.
  • Being active in nonlawyer groups.

Become known as an expert through writing. Because Jamie has enjoyed success in publishing articles, Sandy suggests that Jamie continue profile raising with the written word. “To be recognized, you have to share more publicly, and getting published is a perfect strategy for an introvert,” Sandy explains.

Sandy also suggests reaching out to bars and publications. “Simply e-mail editors with topics,” Sandy says. “Build your library of both short and long articles to share with current and prospective clients and to use as handouts when you speak at conferences.”

Invest in relationships. Sandy reminds Jamie to invest in relationships with current and prospective clients and referral sources.

“Visit anybody who will see you when you’re ‘in the neighborhood,’ even if this means scheduling a trip. Whenever you travel for a client meeting, stay longer for business development meetings. Make it easy for prospects; offer to take them to lunch or dinner, but suggest stopping by the office if that’s more convenient. Your purpose is to reinforce and build the relationship, especially with clients, regardless of whether you’re currently doing work for them. You need to be top of mind.”

Get involved with voluntary and local bars. Sandy suggests Jamie step up engagement with professional associations. “How about joining a bar committee with the goal of ultimately serving as its chair?” Jamie tries to hide a grimace. Sandy, seeing it, responds, “I enjoy a conference or event more when I am an organizer or volunteer.”

This approach is a win-win for introverts. Conversations about logistics morph into substantive conversations about the sessions, which then morph into conversations about the introvert’s practice and the other person’s practice or business.

Present at conferences. “Since we’re on the topic of conferences,” Sandy continues, “let’s focus on how to make the most of your time. It’s better to attend a conference as a presenter because you are seen as an expert. Even better, being a presenter allows you to cut through some of the uncomfortable and boring chitchat.”

Jamie will want to consider whether it is most comfortable to serve as a solo presenter, panelist, or moderator. As a presenter or panelist, Jamie can repurpose presentations as blog posts, articles, or contributions to the firm’s newsletter. Even as the moderator, Jamie could summarize the comments of the panelists, adding insights.

Prospect with nonprofessional groups. “I know you’re involved in your church and coaching your daughter’s soccer team,” Sandy suggests. “Everyone you meet is a potential client or referral source.”

Jamie isn’t expected to push business cards on people. Instead, in the normal course, they will learn about Jamie and the firm and, over time, may look to Jamie or the firm for help.

Yes, network, but be prepared! Finally, Sandy focuses on leveraging Jamie’s practice of thorough preparation.

“Always have a couple of stories prepared to answer the ubiquitous question, ‘How are you?’ or ‘What have you been up to?’ Conveying that you are excited about your practice is likely to inspire interest and respect; people will remember you!” Once again, Jamie grimaces. As an introvert, Jamie prefers not to share much of anything.

On the flip side, Jamie, like most introverts, is naturally an excellent listener, learning quite a bit about prospective clients and referral sources. “Having a story ready doesn’t mean you dominate a conversation,” Sandy explains. “Be prepared—as I know you always are—to share a little something personal and interesting before you turn the attention back to the other person. And don’t forget to prepare a few open-ended questions to get others talking; this way you won’t have to share too much.”

Sandy continues with another tip. “Before an event or conference, I try to obtain the guest list to determine if anyone I know or want to know will attend. I reach out with an e-mail suggesting that we ‘connect’ at the event, so I arrive with a clear purpose in mind. Especially if I don’t know who is attending, I arrive early, get comfortable in the space, and figure out where the refreshments, registration table, specific rooms, and restrooms are, so as guests begin to arrive, I can help them. This reinforces that I am a resource and allows me to get to know people more comfortably.”

With notes in hand, Jamie feels ready to create a plan of attack. “Thanks for your advice! Let me think, and I’ll come up with a multifaceted plan.” Sandy smiles, recognizing a fellow introvert’s inclination to think before committing.

ABA LAW PRACTICE DIVISION

This article is an abridged and edited version of one that originally appeared on page 58 of Law Practice, January/February 2017 (43:1).

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Anne Collier is a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Master Practitioner and the founder of Arudia, an executive coaching and training firm in Washington, D.C.