Many law firms and solo practitioners market their practices by relying heavily on websites, press releases, print and electronic advertising, sponsorships, etc. While those tools certainly can help bring clients to your door if managed effectively, many attorneys continue to miss out on one of the most effective means of attracting new business: personal networking.
The “problem” with personal networking for a lot of people, attorneys included, can be traced to a perceived lack of time or, in some instances, a simple, but common, fear of social situations or public speaking. Fortunately, those obstacles can be overcome with a little planning, and the results are well worth it.
The value of personal networking can be traced in large part to the Pareto Principle, also called the “80/20 Rule” or the “Law of the Vital Few.” Named for 19th-century Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, the Pareto Principle holds that roughly 80 percent of what happens derives from 20 percent of the plausible causes.
Translated to business, that means 80 percent of new work comes from 20 percent of your existing customers, which is why staying in front of your client base and potential referral sources is so important.
Finding the Time for Personal Networking
We all know a lawyer who seems to be everywhere. If they’re not in court or meeting with a client, you’ll find them leading a State Bar conference, speaking before a local bar group, smiling for a photo at a charity event, etc. This lawyer also somehow posts updates about their latest professional exploits during all hours of the day and night on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels.
While some of these attorneys spend more time marketing themselves than billing clients, the truth is that most of them are devoting far fewer hours than you might imagine. Most importantly, they’re getting called for work that others never hear about.
But who in the world has time for all that while still maintaining their other professional and personal obligations and retaining their sanity?
In fact, most lawyers do have the time but they fail to get off the starting line based on the personal assertion that they’re simply too busy to take on one more unbillable responsibility. The difference between those attorneys and the lawyers who seem to be everywhere is more about establishing and adhering to a plan than having to create more time in their already packed schedules.
Social Media Dominance Over Lunch
One of the easiest and most time-friendly ways to expand your personal network is to establish a presence on one or more social media outlets, including those mentioned above. By focusing on social media during the lunch hour once a month, you can easily begin and maintain a consistent schedule of posting information that will remind your contacts and others about your capabilities and expertise.
Finding social media content is something you already do even if you don’t realize it. A simple review of the local newspaper or a publication that clients and potential clients read will provide plenty of fodder for your online posts and show that you’re in tune with the issues that are most important to the people who are likely to send you work.
If you’re a family lawyer, post a link a story about the latest Hollywood divorce and your view of the potential legal issues the couple might face. If you handle transactional work, post a link to news about the latest mega merger and weigh in on the possible regulatory hurdles. The possibilities are endless.
But how can you easily update so many social media accounts and post them all hours of the day? Fortunately, there are many inexpensive – and even free – social media management tools that are quickly findable with an internet search, including Buffer, Hootsuite and others. With these platforms, you can schedule and post on multiple social media accounts from one screen in a matter of minutes. These services also remind you when new posts are due while remembering your passwords so you don’t have to re-enter them when you want to post something new.
Perhaps the most impactful interaction you can have with a client or a referral source is to talk with them in person. Getting in front of other people and telling them – or reminding them – about what you do in a memorable way will make sure you stand above the crowd.
Although email, text messages, and the old reliable phone call all have their place in maintaining and attracting business, there is simply no substitute for sitting down across the table from someone and explaining how you can bring a solution to their legal problem.
The lawyers who seem to be everywhere know this, which is why they meet with as many clients and referral decision makers as possible. This effort also can be done with very little time commitment. Once a month, rather than using your lunch hour to go to gym or work at your desk, make it a priority to schedule at least one lunch meeting outside the office with someone who you know can bring you work.
If you spend more time talking with your lunch companion about the Sunday night football game rather than their legal needs, don’t think your effort was wasted. Sharing a meal and/or a friendly conversation with a current or potential client will go much further than an email or voicemail in terms of making your phone ring the next time they need legal help.
In the Public
Even if you don’t think you’re ready to take the dais for an hour at a formal dinner before 1,000 of your colleagues, you can make just an effective impression by being in the right place at the right time on a smaller scale and in much less time.
Being seen in public and conversing with other lawyers is a priority for the lawyers who seem to be everywhere. It’s just another, low-maintenance way to keep their name in the minds of those who can refer them clients or hire them personally. The best part is that making it happen is as simple as watching a few key calendars and devoting an hour or less to being where you need to be.
For example, nearly every local bar association maintains an online calendar of events detailing upcoming meetings, continuing education seminars, etc. If you see a program that focuses on an area important to you and your practice, then make it your business to be there. Even if you can’t attend the entire event, by circulating with others in your field and talking about the issues in your shared practice area, you’ll be remembered in a positive light.
The same can be said for industry conferences. Spend an hour over the weekend looking at upcoming events in your area where potential clients might be gathering to talk about the latest issues in their industry. Not being there is the only way to make sure you won’t be thought about at all.
Another terrific opportunity to meet with highly regarded referral sources can be found in the various “best lawyers” magazine unveilings or awards ceremonies. A simple internet search or a quick call to the publication will show you when these events are coming up.
In less than an hour, you can hobnob with some of the most influential lawyers in your area (not to mention the free food and cocktails) and let them know more about you and what you do. Unfortunately, a few of the companies and publications that host such events have begun charging fees for attendees, which many people (including me) find distasteful. Thankfully, there are many others that rely on sponsorships rather than asking honorees and their guests to open their wallets in exchange for attending.
These are just a few of the ways that you can significantly expand your sphere of influence through personal networking in just a few hours a month without significantly impacting the work you’re already doing.
Certainly, as purveyors of marketing services ourselves, we here at Muse Communications believe that tools like websites, blogs, newsletters, social media, and press releases play an important role in a lawyer’s business development efforts. However, those work best when they are supplements to – not replacements for – personal networking.
The key is devoting yourself to the effort and taking a few lunch hours to help you become the lawyer who seems to be everywhere.
Bruce Vincent is a writer and editor who has advised lawyers and law firms on personal networking for more than 20 years. He also helps clients produce informative blogs and websites, promote big wins, and successfully handle crisis situations. Bruce spends more time on personal networking than working on his golf game.