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.
We’ve put together this list of legal networking tips to help you do just that, including advice for attending events and beyond. Whether your networking with fellow attorneys, or attending non-legal networking events relevant to your practice area, these tips are sure to set you up for success.
1. Do your prep work.
If you approach a legal networking event like an obligatory annoyance and do minimal (or no) prep work, your results aren’t going to be that great. What’s the demographic going to be like? Is this an event for lawyers of a specific practice area? Look up the topics that will be discussed if it’s a seminar or if someone is giving a talk, and research them a little so you can talk about them intelligently later. It’ll probably be more engaging than saying something like, “So… what’s new?
2. Have a line ready.
When someone asks who you are and what you do, be ready with an answer. This one line should be enough to get the conversation flowing, and to help the people you meet figure out as soon as possible if and how they can help (and vice versa). For example, if someone asks you the above question, you might want to say “I’m a family law attorney from Oakland, focusing mainly on no-fault divorces. How about you?”
3. Remember: It’s not about you; it’s about them.
If you want to experience truly enjoyable interactions where the other person is fully engaged, don’t make it about you. This is true of any conversation, but especially at an event where the sole purpose is to create mutually beneficial relationships. Ask what the other lawyer does, and what kinds of clients they help. After all, you’re likely to get more referrals from someone who you’ve referred clients to in kind. More importantly, it’s worth knowing good attorneys in other practice areas you can trust so you can provide a good client experience and get positive reviews even if potential clients don’t use your services.
4. Don’t just do it when you need to.
Continuously network, go to events, and meet new people. It’s a skill that you build over time and that needs to be honed constantly—and if it’s any consolation, it will only get easier each time. Attend local events, or industry-leading conferences like the Clio Cloud Conference where there are smaller networking events broken out by practice area or different areas of interest.
5. Follow up
If you meet another legal professional who might send you business, follow-up with them! People meet tens, if not hundreds, of other professionals, and yes, that means unless you have a 3D-pop-up business card, it will probably get lost in the shuffle. Even if you’re highly talented at having outstanding and memorable conversations with every person you meet, following up with a quick email will cement your acquaintances’ memory of you and help you begin to cultivate that relationship.
6. Be seen and heard
For Renee Thompson, a mediator and civil litigator working from Ocala, Florida, networking and business development boils down to two essentials: building relationships and being accessible. “It’s imperative that you cultivate your relationships on an ongoing basis,” says Renee, “but you also need to be seen and heard, so that people remember you when they need a lawyer.”
To start, being an active member in her local and state bar associations has helped Renee build relationships with people in her industry on a statewide basis. Specifically, she works with the Animal Law Section of the Florida Bar and began writing for the Florida Bar Journal on topics that related specifically to equine law.
“You get to know who the players are in your particular field,” says Renee. “I have a discreet area of practice, so I want people to think of me when relevant matters come up.”
7. Go above and beyond for clients to earn more work
Meeting people is only the first step when it comes to business development. The real work comes in finding ways to cultivate relationships as issues come up. To stand out from everyone else, you need to do good work—really good work.
Renee says, “You have to go above and beyond for people. That’s how they remember you. Anyone can hire someone to handle a task, but if you handle it in a way that exceeds their expectations, that’s where people start to say, ‘If I send it to her, it’ll get taken care of, and taken care of properly.’”
8. Make referrals easy
Most law firms find 25 to 50% 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 lawyers and past 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. 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.
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