As a lawyer, one of your most valuable assets is your professional network. Developing a meaningful network of potential clients and referral sources may seem overwhelming, but it is simpler than you may think. Follow these tips and you will be on your way to cultivating the type of contact list you will need to generate business.
1. Create and reinforce a personal brand.
Before others will seek you out for your legal expertise, you need to communicate what you do and why they should come to you. This requires more than having an “elevator speech” at the ready. While a 30-second elevator pitch may be useful for brief and isolated encounters, a personal brand defines your professional identity and informs all interactions with business contacts. Above all, your personal brand should be genuine and consistent. It should also be memorable, inspire confidence and convey that you are knowledgeable in your chosen area of the law.
2. Participate in bar associations and professional organizations.
Opportunities for lawyers to participate in extracurricular activities are abundant. But don’t spread yourself too thin. Because these activities will be competing for your time with your job, family and social life, select one or two organizations whose message you feel strongly about or whose membership you feel the greatest connection with. You will be far more likely to contribute in a meaningful way. Take on leadership positions or other substantive roles that showcase the skills that make you an effective lawyer.
3. Be aware of your professional reputation in social settings.
Your network will include many, if not mostly, people you meet in non-professional situations. For that reason, your behavior should always be consistent with the professional reputation that you want to convey, regardless of where you are. The gym, your children’s school and church are great places to meet people who can bring you business, but you might not know it right away. Make it a practice to be pleasant and positive when interfacing with others. You will make some new friends—who, incidentally, are the best referral sources—and you will decrease the likelihood of a social misstep that could irreparably damage your reputation.
4. Use the Internet wisely.
In this day and age, a lawyer without an Internet presence practically does not exist. At a minimum, you should have a website with a biography that tells the world what type of law you practice, where your office is located and other basic information. When you meet someone new, this is likely the first place he or she will look to find out more about you. Update your biography periodically so it remains current as your practice evolves. It may also be useful to include articles you’ve written and presentations you’ve given so that network sees you as a valuable resource in your areas of expertise.
Social media can also be effective to broaden your network. Regardless of which sites you use, make sure that your online profile is consistent with your personal brand and accurately portrays who you are. Even if you intend to use social media for personal reasons only, do nothing to undermine your professional reputation. You never know who might come across your page.
5. Don’t underestimate the value of business cards.
Even with the Internet, old-fashioned business cards are still important. Never leave home without a couple in your wallet. After all, your new contact can only locate you on the Internet following your first meeting if she remembers your name and how to spell it. Make it easy and hand her a business card. It doesn’t need to be fancy—all you need is basic contact information.
6. Finds ways to reconnect with your contacts.
Meeting someone new is the first step. The networking process does not stop with an introduction. Your contacts are more likely to think of you when they need a lawyer if you have ongoing interaction with them. Make it your goal to reach out to each new contact at least once within the first month of your initial meeting. A brief phone call or email can be effective, particularly if you offer something of value—an introduction to a colleague who might be a useful resource; a link to a restaurant you recommended; a request for a follow-up meeting; an invitation to an event that might be of interest. Make it personal. Ideally, you will have learned information during the first meeting that will make your future interactions meaningful and memorable. After that, make sure you check in periodically. You don’t want your contacts to forget about you.
Don’t become discouraged if your professional network does not translate into business immediately. It may take decades to bear fruit. But if you approach it with the right attitude, you can have fun, you will meet interesting people and you will have the network you need to be a rainmaker.