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What happens after you leave BigLaw and become a solo? When John Snyder, a senior associate in a big New York firm, started his commercial litigation boutique, people wondered about it. There must be an easier way — especially since it meant getting Big Apple business clients to hire a solo. Just past the one-year milestone, John is giving Attorney at Work readers practical advice about making it on your own.
“If you want your law practice to survive, you’ve got to network!” When I was starting out as a solo, I heard that hundreds of times. And every time, my stomach turned. I’m not a natural networker, at least not as I understood the term. To me, the term itself was a turnoff, reeking of insincerity and an attitude of “what can this person do for me.”
Now I realize, however, that my problem was not with networking per se. It was with bad networking!
Let me give an example of bad networking. This summer a friend dragged me to a Harvard Business School event in Manhattan. It was one of those deals where about 100 private equity guys (yes, they were nearly all guys, all in their 30s and 40s) gathered in a hotel ballroom, drank Heineken’s, ate cheese and tried to identify and ingratiate themselves to the individual in the group who could help their career — right now.
Here’s how they networked. They would come up to me and say, “Hi, I’m Peter, what do you do?” I would tell them I was a lawyer. Peter would respond, “Do you have clients looking to sell a company?” (Side note: At the time, I actually did have clients looking to sell. But Peter’s opening lines were so mercenary, I didn’t feel like telling him.)
I would respond with something equivocal like, “I have clients who are always open to opportunities.” At that point, Peter would start scanning the room over my shoulder, and a few moments later, would excuse himself to go find someone more promising.
I don’t want to be Peter. You don’t want to be Peter. I doubt Peter actually gets anywhere with that approach.
The way I prefer to network, if you must call it that, is simple. I go to events that include people I enjoy talking with. If I find myself in a room full of Peters, I leave. When I meet someone, I try to think of ways that I can help them. As lawyers, we know tons of people in all walks of life, and any given person probably has some kind of problem that someone we know can help him solve. If I like the person, I might suggest that we have lunch. And I actually follow up, schedule the lunch, and never bail out at the last minute (a pet peeve of mine).
Of course I end up going to lunches that don’t bear immediate business, and many will never result in any business. If you worry about that, you are missing the point. The reason I go to lunches is that I like eating, and I enjoy getting to know interesting people. That is the only point of lunches. If relationships lead to business, so much the better.
So here is how I would amend that “you gotta network” edict. It’s not about networking — it’s about being a friendly, generous and helpful person. After all, these are ultimately the qualities that clients or potential referral sources seek in a lawyer. Leave the “what can you do for me” stuff to the Peters of the world.
John H. Snyder is the founder of John H. Snyder PLLC, a boutique litigation firm in Midtown Manhattan that focuses on complex closely-held company disputes and outside general counsel services for emerging companies. John has deep experience in the private equity and commercial real estate industries, and is a graduate of Harvard Law School and Brown University. He lives in Times Square with his wife, Julie Fei-Fan Balzer.
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