If you are a young associate or a solo practitioner, you are probably sick of hearing you need to network your way to being a successful lawyer. As if you had time to do that, or if you have time, knew where to start! It turns out the reason nobody seems to be able to explain exactly when or how to develop into a rainmaker is because the people who are good at this sort of thing think it needs no explanation. For the rest of us, here are four life hacks that will help you start to build a book of business.
1. Think Outside the Box
Is there anything more cliché than the expression ‘think outside the box’ in an article about business? Probably not. But there is also not any other quick and easy way to say that if you want results you have to do something more or different than you are doing right now.
When most attorneys think about networking, the first place their mind goes is the bar association. It’s been drilled into us that successful lawyers are active in the bar association. While that is true, it is also important to get involved with organizations that put you in contact with a lot of people who are not lawyers. Consider this example: A young lawyer joins the local historical society after attending an interesting public lecture they hosted. She gets to know several people in the society quite well by serving on a committee, and soon some of them start asking her questions about estate planning. Specifically, they want to know how to make sure family heirlooms are passed down to the right people. It turned out everyone in the group had one or more items they are concerned about passing on to the next generation, so the organization hosts a public lecture featuring the young attorney, and she gains quite a few new estate planning clients through it.
This story illustrates an important point. Networking is actually all about building meaningful relationships, not handing out as many business cards as possible.
2. Don’t Leave Success to Chance
Don’t go to events or join organizations just hoping you will meet someone interesting. When possible, make sure you know who you are going to meet before you commit your time.
Thinking about joining an organization? Ask for their yearly program book, which typically includes a list of members.
Deciding whether you have time to go to another event after work this week? Ask to see the list of registered attendees.
Asking to see a list of members or attendees allows you to plan a networking strategy. The worst thing a group or an event planner is going to say is no. However, if you are polite they will often say yes.
Once you have a list, figure out who you already know so you can ask them for introductions. If you don’t know anyone, pick out a few people who would be interesting to get to know and make it your goal to meet these people. Having a plan like this in place is much more effective than bumbling around a room full of strangers hoping to run into someone.
3. Dress to Impress
When we lawyers hear the phrase ‘dress to impress’ our default seems to be to wear all black. But that is the last thing you should do if you are trying to build your network. If you want people to remember you, you need to stand out, not blend into the crowd.
In order to do this, you must build a networking wardrobe. Work on finding a few outfits that say ‘I’m interesting’ without saying ‘I’m eccentric.’
For men, this can be as simple as switching out your white shirt for a patterned one, or adding a pocket square. (Seriously, wearing a pocket square right by your nametag is very eye-catching!)
Ladies have a lot more options than the guys. There are stylish suits and business dresses available in a much broader array of colors today than even just a few years ago. And if you want to stick with the classic black, you can always accessorize.
Humans are very visual, so if you start putting an effort into looking memorable, it will pay off when it comes time to follow-up with someone you recently met.
4. Build, But Also Maintain
Are you still friends with the people you hung around with in high school? What about college? What about that conference you attended last month? If so, it’s because you made it a priority to keep in touch. Until a relationship gets to a level where keeping in touch comes naturally, you have to be intentional about it if you want it to last. We all lead crazy-busy lives, so the best way to make this happen is to use technology to make it easier.
Put the contact info of new people you meet into your address book as soon as possible, with notes on when and where you met and what you talked about. You can do this manually, with a scanner, or by using an app. There are a ton of apps that can send the contact info on cards you scan to your phone’s address book, or even directly to your practice management software.
Schedule blocks of your time to use for follow-up the day after big events and every few weeks. Don’t just say you will do this, actually put it in your calendar.
But what do you say when you follow up? That’s where the notes you took during or after meeting a contact come in. The next time you read an interesting article on a topic you remember talking about with someone you just met, or someone you want to circle back with, either send it over to them right away or save it and send it on during your next scheduled follow-up time. You can even set up Google Alerts for specific topics if you really want to automate the process of finding something to follow-up with.
Another great follow-up is a note of congratulations. If you see one of your contacts has received an award or won a big case, send a quick note congratulating them. People will be happy you are happy for them, and will remember that down the road.
Keep these tips in mind, and soon you will be one of those annoying people who can say you don’t really know how to be good at networking, it just comes natural!
This article was originally published in the March 2016 issue of YLD Dictum, a publication of the New Jersey State Bar Association, and is reprinted here with permission.