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Everyone knows that, much like diet and exercise, networking is good for you and that, similarly, there are lots of excuses for avoiding it.
As a practicing lawyer, the need to "get out there and network!" engenders powerful attitudinal obstacles. But without pursuing a course that taps networking as a business development tool, you are simply, less than your potential. The more one invests in networking, the more returns there are for oneself and your law firm.
Understanding Networking—An Attitude Adjustment
When coaching lawyers or conducting CLEs on business development, I hear a lot of resistance to incorporating networking as a means of building a book of business. Here are the most common excuses:
A better understanding of what networking really is will convince you that most anyone can learn to do it comfortably. A better understanding will also lead to a realization of how indispensable it is.
Let's discuss first what networking is not. Networking is not showing up at a conference or reception glad-handing and distributing business cards to strangers. Who wouldn't feel uncomfortable doing that?
Networking is a straightforward concept. It's building a network of people for the purpose of mutual assistance.
Put the emphasis on mutual. It's not "I want your legal business." Rather, it's developing relationships among those who can help one another in professional, as well as personal, ways. In its simplest form, networking presents a platform for exchanging information that is mutually beneficial. It may be about a legal advice, but it could even be about a baby sitter or plumber if the need is expressed.
Further, and this is key to building a network, it's more about giving than receiving. Only when you give (advice, praise, recommendations, etc.) do relationships grow and develop. Once that occurs, it's only a matter of time before you get something back.
It's human nature; people like to reciprocate. Developing trusting and dependable relationships, however, doesn't happen in one meeting. It is a process, and it requires persistence and patience to reap the benefits.
Getting Past the Excuses
No more excuses! Below, I discredit the attitudes that stand in the way of networking progress:
I don't have the time.
Once it's understood what a well-developed network can accomplish, it can actually be a time saver. For instance, everyone who is part of your network is a potential resource, with access to information, opportunities, or ideas that could otherwise require hours of your time to gather. With an established network, it's possible the answer to a practice management issue is only a phone call or two away.
However, the main reason lawyers should network is for business development. Attorneys have a tendency to overestimate the importance of their technical skills when, in fact, prospective clients are weighing more "human" considerations, such as "Is this someone I get along with?" and "Can I trust this person?"
Think about the successful lawyers you know. Are they the most exceptionally skilled or technically competent legal professionals? If not, then what is it that sets them apart and sparks their success? Undoubtedly, it's the number of people they know and the quality of the relationships they have with them. Building meaningful relationships, over time, is the key to a robust practice; and effective networking is the genesis for developing those relationships.
Here it is in a nutshell: Having an effective network is one of the most critical components of being a successful lawyer. As such, taking the time to network must be a priority.
I'm not a salesperson.
If there's a consistently common objection to networking that I hear, it's "I didn't go to law school to be a salesperson!"
Don't confuse networking with a sales call. Remember, networking is about sharing information and listening for ways to be of mutual assistance.
Letting people you meet know that you practice law in a firm that offers a range of services is information, not sales. Lawyers need to shift their attitude if they think that networking is the same as "selling" legal services. Most people are grateful to know where to find a lawyer when they need advice about estate planning, protecting a company's intellectual property, completing a business transaction, or trying to keep someone out of jail. And all lawyers can be proud of the fact that they earn their living by helping people.
It's out of my comfort zone.
Just as networking is not handing out business cards at receptions, it is also not cold calling complete strangers. Rather, think of it as developing relationships with people with whom you may be acquainted, but would like to know better.
Is a cup of coffee or lunch out of your comfort zone? I have coached well over one hundred lawyers from across the nation who practice at firms of all sizes. Rarely have I worked with an attorney who could not carry on a pleasant conversation in a one-on-one setting.
Start with people you already know, professionally or personally, to create a contact list. Think about people who can benefit from an enhanced relationship with you. Here's a starter list of prospects:
It's called a contact list for a reason. Prioritizing the list, contact these people to set up a casual get-together. Connect with a college alum who is starting a new business or another lawyer who could be a good referral source.
Be prepared that not everyone will accept your outreach, so don't take it personally. They are either too busy or are too shortsighted to see the benefits of networking. Remember that 70 percent of the time, the best baseball players don't make it to first base when they come to the plate. If you can enhance your relationship with 25 percent of those on the contact list, you're doing fine.
Building a network is a numbers game. It's not about having the best personality or leading the popularity chart. To be successful at it, you must continuously circulate, adding new names to your contact list. Building your network within groups where prospective clients or referral sources are likely to be found. You can do that by attending conferences, becoming active in professional and community organizations where you interact with many individuals and where your contributions to the organization are visible. You might feel more comfortable joining a committee where you can meet and build rapport with a smaller group. Networking doesn't happen in your office: Get out and meet someone new.
Practical Tips for Effective Networking
If I have achieved my goal, I've made the case for the value of networking and that it doesn't have to be an uncomfortable exercise. Here are some general tips to make those networking efforts more effective:
There's the cliché, "it's not what you know that counts, it's who you know." Well, in the legal industry, we know for sure that what you know is of primary importance. But it doesn't do much good if others don't know you know it.
Investing the time to develop a wide network of informational resources, advisors, and prospects yields a return that exponentially increases over the years. And that's because just about all the contacts you make, at some point in their personal or professional lives, will need legal services. Wouldn't it be great if you popped into their minds? Networking effectively will assure that outcome.
Contact us today at (858) 638-8260 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to see how we can help your team realize a return on your networking ROI.
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