Business Development


Business Development:

3 excuses standing in the way of your networking progress

Roy S. Ginsburg
Columbus, OH

Many lawyers resist incorporating networking as a means of building a book of business. Here are their most common excuses:

● I don't have the time.
I'm a professional; networking is like being a salesperson.
It is outside my comfort zone.

These attitudes stand in the way of networking progress.  Let's consider them one by one.

I don't have the time. Once you understand what a well-developed network can accomplish, it can actually save you time. 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, the answer to a practice management issue is only a phone call or two away. But the main reason lawyers should network is that having an effective network is one of the most critical components of being a successful rainmaker. As such, taking the time to network must be a priority. 

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.

I'm not 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? 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:

Law firm (cross-sell)
People from bar association or trade/industry organizations
People from organizations where you volunteer
Opposing counsel from past cases
Extended family members
Friends (and their friends)
Neighbors (do you ever wonder what to talk about at the annual block party?)
People with whom you went to college or law school
People from previous jobs
Members of your church or synagogue

Next, prioritize the list and 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.

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.  Build your network within groups where prospective clients or referral sources are likely to be found. Attend conferences, become visibly active in professional and community organizations where you interact with many people, or join 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.