According to a 2016 survey by Avvo, 36 percent of law firm clients found their lawyer through an existing relationship. In other words, the more relationships you build, the better chance you have at growing your firm. And, as an attorney, networking is key for building those relationships.
Still, for busy lawyers, taking time out for networking events might be easier said than done. How do you ensure you’re getting the most out of your attorney networking efforts? You can master the art of striking up conversations, but if you really want to get your name out there, you might need to take your efforts a step further—both in your traditional and online networking.
We’ve put together a list of tips to help you do just that:
- Make referrals easy
Most law firms find 25 to 50 percent of their new clients from referrals every year, according to Kerry Lavelle’s The Business Guide to Law. If you want new clients from referrals, you need to make it very easy for clients to recommend you.
Make sure your friends and family have business cards they can hand out, but also make it easy for them to explain how to find you online. If they’re out of cards, they’ll likely tell your potential client to look you up online, so make sure you have a website that puts your best foot forward.
“You need materials in the hands of your friends, colleagues, and supporters such that they can promote you,” says Joshua Lenon, lawyer in residence at Clio.
Want to learn more about how attorney networking can help your business development efforts? Watch our free webinar on law firm business development.
- Do some public speaking
This might not seem like a networking activity at first, but as Joshua explains:
What’s really interesting about this is it doesn’t necessarily have to be speaking about your law firm. You could speak about topics that you’re passionate about, or that are of interest to people who might be potential clients. Simply mentioning the fact that you are a lawyer will almost always lead to two or three people coming and asking you for free legal advice.
Those are the people that you make sure you give a business card to, and who you arrange a follow-up time to speak with.
- Get involved in your local community
As mentioned earlier, building a regional reputation is key for your business development strategy. However, the relationships you have in your community will be important as well.
Kerry Lavelle actually recommends joining a bar association, one to two committees, the local chamber of commerce, and at least one trade association. You’ll be networking with lawyers who can refer business to you, but also with the community at large. That way, you’re both developing ties to the community and speaking to people who might become new clients.
- Empower your employees
Many law firms still operate using an ‘eat what you kill model,’ meaning that everyone brings in their own business and focuses on that. But as Joshua explains, it may be a better idea to work as a group and encourage your employees to bring in more business for the whole firm. Just like your friends and family, your employees and partners can do plenty to help you connect with new clients.
“Whether it’s recognition, a thank-you card, or a nice lunch out, do something to empower all of your employees to become promoters,” he says.
Traditional networking is important, but you need to have an online presence as well. No matter where you make your connections, it’s likely that potential clients will look you up online first.
As Joshua explains, “according to a report from icXlegal, we see that 80 percent of buyers of professional services will go to your website and evaluate your capabilities, regardless of how they may have heard from you.” In other words, online promotion needs to be a key part of your attorney networking efforts.
For lawyers, there are six areas of online promotion that have been proven to be effective, according to Alyn-Weiss’ bi-annual law firm marketing effectiveness survey. Of those, Joshua believes that four are key to start with. Here’s an overview:
According to Joshua, blogging allows you to talk about client problems in a way that draws them in. Before they seek legal advice, clients often look for general help online. If you can offer that through a blog post, clients may be more likely to find you online.
“They will search using that language, and they will find you,” Joshua says.
You can blog whether or not you have your own website, and in fact, Joshua notes that in some jurisdictions, ethical rules are actually more in favor of you doing it separate from your law firm website. To be safe, double-check the rules in your jurisdiction before you start.
If you’re new to blogging, or if you want to run your blog separately from your own website, Joshua highly recommends LexBlog, a service run out of Seattle.
“LexBlog empowers lawyers with professional training and easy-to-use tools to create their own modern blog publishing platforms,” he says. “It’s an easy way for you to get up and running on blogging with a community of thousands of other lawyers sharing their best tips, tricks, and practices for doing that.”
Weiss’s survey pegged LinkedIn as an effective medium for online marketing, but Joshua recommended Facebook instead. Why?
“What we’re seeing now is that Facebook has such a broad reach, and such the ability to do targeted messaging in a regional area, that it’s probably one of the better places to build your regional reputation right now,” he said.
For example, if your firm is located in Greenville, Alabama, you can target your Facebook advertisements at people who live in the area (see more targeting options in step four of our guide to Facebook advertising for lawyers).
In the information age, your firm needs a website. But not just any website—you need a website that quickly and effectively communicates the right information to your clients.
“Effective websites quickly and easily convey your expertise, your pricing model, and how to contact you, with the ability to contact you online,” Joshua says. “If you don’t have those four things at a minimum, your website is not effective.”
Once you’ve got those four points down, you need to make sure your website is mobile-friendly. Why? More and more people are using their phones to go online.
If you’ve used a service like Squarespace or Wix to create and host your website, there’s no need to worry—Joshua points out that these services will shift and resize your page to fit each device that finds it, whether desktop or mobile.
What if you haven’t used one of these services? “Make sure that you take a look at your own website on your mobile phone,” Joshua says. “If you can’t read it, it’s probably time for an upgrade.”
“Online ranking services and ratings directories like Avvo are actually great tools because people are already starting to use them, and they will do the promotion work for you,” Joshua says.
What’s more, Avvo has a much larger advertising budget than most small law firms would have—Joshua points out that Avvo spent $11 million on advertising in 2014.
“If Avvo’s going to spend $11 million on advertising to potential legal clients, why don’t you let them spend the $11 million, and you take the clients?” he explains. “It’s just common sense that if you can’t outspend somebody, you find a way to use their resources on your behalf.”
Key takeaways for effective attorney networking
To sum up, here’s what lawyers should be focusing on to get the most out of their attorney networking efforts:
- Make referrals easy
- Connect with large groups through public speaking
- Be involved in your community
- Empower your employees to become promoters
- Start blogging to build trust with potential clients
- Use targeted Facebook ads to reach people in your area
- Build an effective website to connect with clients more quickly
- Leverage the marketing spend of online ratings directories
Effective networking is just one part of a strong business development strategy. Watch our free webinar on law firm business development strategies for law firms, presented by Clio’s lawyer in residence, Joshua Lenon.