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November 19, 2018 Practice Points

The Shakespearean Solo Litigator: To Climb or Not to Climb

By Kasey Mitchell Adams

Last month, a 56-year old man known as the “French Spider-Man” scaled the 46-story Heron Tower in London, England, without the help of any safety gear. How brave, bold, daring, and even inspirational you might think. But unfortunately for the French Spider-Man, he was arrested immediately after the successful climb and charged with public nuisance.

You may be wondering what the French Spider-Man has to do with solo practitioners or even the legal profession. But in speaking to fellow young lawyers, a recurring theme arises when discussing networking—how to be successful at networking without crossing the fine line of bothering those around you.

I am not a solo litigator, but I have many friends who chose to go this route out of law school. From the outside looking in, the biggest “difference maker” between those who achieve success early on and those who struggle to catch up is being bold enough to “put yourself out there.” Friends in the first camp attribute their early success to this boldness (perhaps sometimes with the help of blind luck). But friends in the second camp claim their biggest regret is not putting enough emphasis on networking. When questioned further, the number one reason that stopped them from being bolder and more daring in their networking approach was general discomfort—or as I see it, the fear of being a nuisance. And admittedly, this happens. Too much or too aggressive networking can actually produce the opposite of the desired effect. So how do we know how much is too much and how do we not let the fear of being a nuisance prevent us from taking the climb?

Consider a few of the following thoughts to help focus your attention on striking the perfect balance. This list is by no means exhaustive—all of the typical “best networking tips” still apply.

Dare to make the climb:

  • Know and tout your strengths, but equally acknowledge and improve your weaknesses.
  • Understand that advertising does not equal networking. This is an easy trap to fall into—particularly with the vast array of social media opportunities. But advertising is not a substitute for in-person interaction.
  • Be uncomfortable. If you only stick to what you know, you will stagnate.
  • Get involved in community organizations.
  • Appreciate the value of solid follow-up.
  • Support other solo practitioners or others seeking to build their network. Combining forces can be mutually beneficial.
  • Appropriately take advantage of relationships to orchestrate introductions. It is not desperate or unforgivable to ask a friend to introduce you to someone you would like to meet. If your friend does not want to do it, they will say no; but, you will not know unless you ask.

Avoid being a nuisance:

  • Recognize that too much of anything is a bad thing—this applies to networking as well.
  • Approach everything with what you can offer to others in the networking relationship. It is a give and take.
  • Find a mentor who you have seen successfully network—watch and follow his or her example.
  • If you focus only on people you think are the “big cheese,” you will alienate others who may actually be more a beneficial relationship long-term.
  • Do not oversell yourself—only promise something that you can deliver.
  • If you put all of your emphasis on quantity, you will sacrifice quality.  
  • Be patient and build trust—people will be less exasperated with your networking efforts once they know you.

Most importantly, know yourself to sell yourself. Before the French Spider-Man could scale the building without ropes, he had to study the building and locate potential footholds. The same is true for networking. If you want to be able to climb to the top of the building without ropes, you have to find your own footholds. And if you want to sell yourself to others, know yourself. Take the time for self-reflection, prepare yourself for the climb, and just go for it.

Kasey Mitchell Adams is an attorney at Butler Snow LLP in Jackson, Mississippi.

Copyright © 2018, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).