Networking for Lawyers: Is it All Just a Huge Waste of Time?

By Steve Fretzin

 

If the title of this article grabbed your attention, it’s probably because you’ve weighed out the pros and cons of attending networking events and drawn-out coffee meetings that never seem to go anywhere. At the very beginning of my second book, “The Attorneys Networking Handbook,” I state that no one has wasted more time networking than I have. This is because I was inexperienced and willing to meet with anyone from the local Avon lady to the aggressive insurance salesman. In fact, the insurance guy honestly expected me to give him 10 names of family and friends for him to call after only meeting me for an hour. True story!

 

Additionally, all the networking books stated that you had to give, give, and give to get, so I destroyed my time helping everyone I could. While that might have been an excellent karma-building exercise, it’s not realistic for any attorney with billable hour requirements to work that hard at networking. Like your skills in a courtroom or deposition, it’s imperative to learn best practices from people more knowledgeable than you. Or in my case, those who already made the mistakes and fixed them so they could share best practices with you. Here are three absolutely critical ways to make networking more efficient and actually get you the business (if executed properly).

FRETZIN Tip #1: Go where your targets are.

This may sound simple; however, most attorneys aren’t even clear about WHO their targets are. To make this simple, you only have two. They are prospective clients, like GCs, CEOs, and other decision-makers. They are potential strategic partners, like CPAs, consultants, and other lawyers who, and this is really important, play in the same sandbox that you do. This means, not every CPA or every lawyer is for you. If you are an estate planning lawyer, there are professionals who work with the exact clients you want. Financial planners, family law attorneys, and real estate attorneys will come across buyers in need of estate plans more often than a random attorney scribbling away at their desk.

 

Therefore, stop attending events and meetings with folks who are not in one of these two groups, prospective clients, and potential strategic partners. By the way, I’m not saying you can’t meet good people; it’s just more likely that you’ll get business faster if you follow this simple rule. Take a few minutes right now and create a list of your target prospects and strategic partners. Understanding these targets, who they are, and where they go, will save you countless hours of unproductive networking.

FRETZIN Tip #2: Qualify, qualify, qualify!

As you can see, I’m a firm believer that it’s important to qualify the people you meet to better understand their potential to refer you over the long haul. It can be a tremendous time-suck to invest effort into people who aren’t a good fit for you or who will never have the networking habits to send you work. Stop living in the hope that people will refer you; change your habits and start KNOWING that they will. Use the acronym TALENT to help qualify the people most likely to work well with you.

 

Trust: Does this person seem or act trustworthy? Did they commit to something and execute as well? This may take a few meetings to understand, but it’s worth its weight in gold when you find someone who is reliable.

 

Authority: Is this person an authority in their subject? Do a Google search and ask questions to ascertain someone’s true understanding of their subject matter. The worst thing you can do is to refer someone who doesn’t know their S#!+.

 

Likeability: Is this someone you’d enjoy a beer with? While you might find someone who can refer you, it’s very hard to refer someone back that you don’t actually like. So, don’t!

 

Empathy: While this isn’t mandatory for a referral partner, it’s sure nice to know that someone cares about others. People who are only out for themselves aren’t great referral partners.

 

Network: The size and quality of someone’s network may directly impact the length of time it takes to get business from a strategic partner. If I have hundreds of top-level connections that need your services, things can happen much faster than if I’m building up my first 10 contacts.

 

Top Player: This is also not mandatory, but it sure is nice to network with someone who is a leader, rainmaker, or business owner. Why? Because they will care more about networking and growing business than any random desk jockey at the company.

FRETZIN Tip #3: Test people out and have a good follow-up.

The last key skill we need to discuss is testing people out. While we started off vetting them with TALENT, they are still untested in the field. My suggestion is to meet for coffee for 45-60 minutes and ask a lot of questions. Figure out an opening connection to make for this person and then talk through who you’d like to meet that they may know. This end of the meeting final step is so important because we MUST qualify that someone can follow through on a commitment made.

 

This goes back to one of my favorite lines from the show “Seinfeld” where Jerry rents a car and they don’t hold the reservation for him.  As he states fervently, “That’s the most important part of the reservation!” If someone, and you’re included in this, says they are going to do something for you and they don’t, it’s a sign that they might not be qualified to work with you. I know this sounds harsh, but we need to consider the simple skill of committing to something and executing that commitment. Imagine telling a client you’ll call the other lawyer—and you just don’t. That’s not going to go well when the client asks you about it.

 

By giving someone something small to do, it allows us to test the waters and see if they are really a player or someone we need to sideline. When someone does follow through you should proceed forward and continue that relationship, as you might have found a solid referral source for your law practice.

Learn More with Steve Fretzin

While there are dozens of other tips I could provide you, you’re not my client yet, so no more soup for you! Ha-ha! Ultimately, my hope is that you take heed and begin qualifying where you go, who you meet, and how you run these networking meetings to get more traction for your law practice. If you do want to speak with me about getting to the next level in legal business development, my email is [email protected] or visit my website at www.fretzin.com for more great resources on building your law practice.

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