Solo lawyers are, by the very nature of our practices, largely isolated. Even when we have a staff, or go to court every day, our substantive work entails a lot of time on our own. Some choose to be solo because they love the isolation; for these lawyers, the word “networking” rings in their heads in an ominous tone.
Reasons to Buck Your Nature
Knowing it is against many of our natures to get out there and network, it is easy to see why many solos shirk the cocktail hour at the bar meeting, or slip into the back row of a CLE presentation and out again as soon as the hour is up. But if you think it doesn’t hurt anything to remove yourself, think again.
Here are five benefits you miss out on if you leave networking to everyone else.
1. Referrals. Yes, truly, it is important and business-building to meet other lawyers. Why? The answer is below, in no. 2.
2. Weaving a web of professional friends. On Facebook, we build a group of friends by “friending” each other and one another’s friends. In real life, we build networks of professional friends by getting out and meeting people. The web we weave in our professional lives should include lawyers from different practice areas. That way, when we have a question or get a client call on an issue that does not fit our practice, we have people to call. And, back to referrals, since colleagues in other practice areas have you in their network, they’ll send questions and clients your way, too.
3. An ethics safety net. The colleagues you get to know at the cocktail hour are not just referral sources or targets, they may also save you when you get in over your head. Perhaps when a client asked a question beyond your area of expertise, you failed to “phone a friend” and tried to answer it — and did not do a great job. Having people to call when you need help or when things go wrong can be a lifesaver. This network is also where you’ll find lawyers who can fill in for you if you’re unavailable — a critical person to help you ward off state bar investigations for failure to meet your obligations to clients.
4. Grow your knowledge. It is amazing what you can learn by listening to a group of lawyers talk to each other. Especially when you are a solo, you are bound to miss legal news across all fields, and even more so in fields that are not your focus. Listening to others talk about the news of the day in their professional lives can be incredibly enlightening.
5. Expand your use of resources. No one person can keep up with all the resources available to practicing lawyers. There are free and low-cost research services, benefits of membership in state bar sections, insurance programs, free CLE, publishing and speaking opportunities, and dozens of other types of resources out there. You will never hear about them, though, or get any real sense of their value if you bury your head in your books in your office. Go out and talk to other lawyers, and stop by vendor booths at conventions. You will be amazed to see that you really are not alone in this world of solo law practice.
Acknowledging the benefits of networking is a great start to convincing yourself to get out there. When the next networking opportunity comes, though, it will still be easier to linger in the office until the cocktail hour has passed, or stand in the corner of the bar and pretend you are not part of the gathering. You’ll need to remind yourself that making the effort is truly worth it. Then, make a promise to yourself that you will stay at the function until a specific time. Arm yourself with your best smile and firmest handshake, and go meet someone.
In the end, the benefits far outweigh the bit of discomfort you feel.