Networking Works, If You…
The Bencher—January/February 2017
By Lauren Waddell, Esquire
Ensuring a secure future for yourself and your family is dependent on building a solid book of business. Developing that business hinges on your ability to meet a lot of people and build relationships over a long period of time. Finding the right places to use effective networking strategies to reveal who you are and what you do, and having the time to do so can be difficult. Sure, there are challenges and networking may not come naturally to some, but it’s crucial to building your practice and can yield amazing results—if you do it right.
…Think Beyond Your Practice Specialty
It’s often easy for attorneys to become involved in practice-specific organizations and commit to leadership positions within their specialty in the bar, which many do and it can take up a lot of time. I believe that being active in your practice area is important to achieving excellence within your specialty and receive peer recognition. However, it is equally important for lawyers to choose other organizations outside of their practice area, and possibly even outside the practice of law, to broaden your referral networks.
To do so, tailor the selection of your organizations to your personal interests. For example, I enjoy promoting women attorneys, so I chose to become involved as an officer for the Houston Association of Women Attorneys. This organization offers me the opportunity to support women attorneys, while also networking with women attorneys in a diverse range of practice areas.
…Find Groups Outside of the Legal World
If you believe in an organization’s purpose and it relates to something you are passionate about, you will enjoy the time you dedicate and the experience will bring more balance to your stressful life as a lawyer. Your selected organization could be a non-profit board or charity. If you choose something you believe in or care about, you will find joy and satisfaction in your time spent participating.
There are a few reasons to participate in a non-practice organization. First, you may want to spend time out of the legal world, as we spend so much time with lawyers on a daily basis. Second, it will likely give you opportunities to meet new people outside of your legal network who share similar interests, which is useful in establishing new connections in your network. This benefits you both personally and professionally. And finally, it’s fun to work with an organization you’re passionate about and believe in.
…Paint a Picture of Your Practice
When you meet new contacts, you need to have a short prepared message to concisely explain your practice, identifying your specialty area(s) and client base. The term “elevator pitch” comes from the studio days of Hollywood, when a screenwriter would catch an unsuspecting executive on an elevator. There, the screenwriter would “pitch” an idea. Now, there’s no need to trap anyone in an elevator to deliver your message, but you should have your “pitch” ready at a moment’s notice.
When you are thinking about what to say, make sure that person will walk away knowing who your clients are. For example, I could say, “I am a family lawyer,” and depending on the recipient of that information, he or she may think that I am a divorce lawyer, an estate planning lawyer, or maybe representing families in all legal matters. So I should be clearer in my description. I could say, “I help people going through divorces, protecting their property interests, and their children.” If timing is appropriate and you perceive that your new contact has a high level of interest, you could share a recent experience in court or facts of an interesting case (without sharing client identifying or privileged information) to demonstrate your passion for your clients and your practice area.
In all areas of your life, people you know need to know not only that you are an attorney, but what you do, specifically, and the clients you serve. You never know where, when, or from whom you are going to find business, so treat everyone you know as a potential referral source.
…Communicate Your Differentiators
Think about how you can set yourself apart from your competition. We each have a unique career path. Maybe you practiced in a different area prior to your current practice. If so, use that to your advantage: Market all of your skills and be able to articulate why they are valuable. You may have a special certification or membership affiliation. Are you Board Certified in your practice area? Are you a member of an invitation-only organization that recognizes excellence and professionalism? Have you been active in leadership for a legal or professional organization, which demonstrates your commitment to the practice of law? Make sure these facts are known to others in your network.
On occasion, I have found myself in a social setting where a colleague will talk about my leadership service in legal organizations. It sounds great when they talk about it! You should share what you are doing with others. Give people in your life information to share about and support you. It’s okay to let people know that you are active, involved, and proud of it.
…Follow Up and Stay Connected
After you meet a new contact, reach out. As a lawyer, you are busy and if you do not follow up you may lose the opportunity to network with that person. E-mail is an easy way to follow up with a new contact after the initial meeting. The message does not have to be lengthy; simply say that it was good to meet him or her at whatever event you met at, and that you look forward to seeing them again, or even offering to meet for lunch. The e-mail will have your signature block and now the new contact has an easy way to contact you. Keeping the conversation going is the next step.
I find there is a lot of overlap between friendships and business referral sources. When you meet new people, put their information in your contacts and note when and where you met that person and a few personal and professional facts. If you continue to do this, over time you will see many relationships develop, some more significant than you imagined.
You will meet many people throughout your career. Clearly, you can’t keep in constant contact with everyone, but making an effort to build connections with new people and staying in touch should be a priority. For your priority contacts, develop an ongoing plan for each of them, so you can remain top-of-mind for them. You can keep them informed of upcoming events that might enhance their practice, invite them to participate in conferences or other professional opportunities, or share recent articles that they might find interesting.
It is important to think about offering value to your contacts. An employment attorney may offer to review a business owner’s employee handbook as a value-based offer, to build trust and encourage further interaction. A corporate and securities lawyer may extend an invitation to a seminar as a value-based offer to substantiate their expertise and meet decision makers and in-house counsel. A litigator may seek out a board position for a charitable organization as a means to meet well-connected business professionals.
…Adopt the Motto, “No guts, no glory!”
“No guts, no glory!” was my theme when I was a young attorney, both for courtroom experiences and networking experiences. In my first year of practice, I was planning to attend an event and one of my law school friends was going to join me. At the last minute, my friend and chosen “wing (wo)man” for the evening could not make it. I had just arrived at the event venue when I found out she was not coming. I looked into the room and people had already formed into groups. The large ballroom was quite intimidating, I easily could have gone home and no one would have known. Instead of following my instincts, I walked in and approached the first person I came to. I tapped him on the shoulder and introduced myself. Luckily, he was welcoming. I met many new people that night, and also had the opportunity to visit with family court judges, which is a thrill for any first-year lawyer. The night was amazing and I was so glad that I had the guts to go into the event alone. I share this story because networking sometimes is about putting yourself out there, outside of your comfort zone. I guarantee that if you put yourself out there and connect with new people, your business will benefit.
Find the organization that’s fun for you. Make the time to get involved in an organization you are passionate about. Market yourself deliberately and boldly by sharing the reasons you are the best attorney for the clients you serve. Don’t forget to follow up with new contacts; you never know how that relationship might develop. And remember, “No guts, no glory!” Networking not only leads to new clients; it also leads to getting to know other professionals in other fields that can enhance your practice and your professional life.
Lauren Waddell, Esquire, is a partner at Fullenweider Wilhite in Houston, Texas. She is a member of the Burta Rhoads Raborn Family Law American Inn of Court.
© 2017 Lauren Waddell, Esq. This article was originally published in the January/February 2017 issue of The Bencher, a bi-monthly publication of the American Inns of Court. This article, in full or in part, may not be copied, reprinted, distributed, or stored electronically in any form without the express written consent of the American Inns of Court.