Building a Referral Network from the Ground Up

By | Feb.23.12 | Business Development, Daily Dispatch, Networking, The Dis-Associate

In the Initiation episode of “The Office,” Ryan the Temp asks top salesman Dwight Shrute to take him on his first sales call. Instead, Dwight escorts Ryan to the Shrute beet farm and instructs him to start digging: “Just as you have planted your beet seed in the ground,” says Dwight, “I’m going to plant my seed in you.”

As awkward as that statement sounds, it exemplifies an age-old truth that applies equally to rookie sit-com salespeople and young lawyers: Experience is what you get by not having it when you need it.

Clients are always looking for a law firm or lawyers with tremendous experience in xyz. Clients are very rarely looking for a lawyer with zero experience in xyz. Yet, in most law firms today, young lawyers are expected to bring in work—any work—and generate some revenue. Do not be fooled. It won’t matter where you got your law degree, or what your class rank was, or how well you scrape and bow. You will never get far or be successful as a lawyer if you do not bring in business.

So if you are a young attorney with virtually no experience, how do you get business? Where do you get that beet seed?

Learn to Plant Your Own Beet Seed

Fortunately, meeting people and building a referral network is not as difficult as it may seem at first:

1. Try. It sounds simple, and it is. Join bar committees. Join local chambers of commerce. Attend seminars. More importantly, network at these events. Don’t just sit in the back and enjoy your free Diet Coke. Get over your fears. Talk and meet and greet and smile. Hand out hundreds of your business cards (yes, business cards). I frequently say the following: “Put it this way, if your legal needs are outside my scope, I can definitely refer you to a trustworthy attorney.” Build your network from the ground up.

3. Associate yourself with older, more experienced attorneys. These attorneys can be within or outside of your own firm. Create your information and referral network. Make sure you know a good business lawyer, bankruptcy lawyer, criminal lawyer, etc. Keep up your relationships. Referrals lead to referrals. Build your network from the ground up.

4. Be patient. You are a small fish in a big pond. Don’t get discouraged. One more time, remember that you are building your network from the ground up.

I may not know what I’m talking about, but I think you understand.

William Melater is a young associate attorney who works at a firm focused on commercial litigation and transactional work. A self-described legal hunter and gatherer, Bill has accumulated a plethora of legal certificates and diplomas—all of which have been appropriately framed and hang behind his desk. Bill has a distaste for emails, suspenders, fake tans, paralegals who cry, sea urchins and attorneys who repeat the phrase “this is my bottom-line offer.” When irked, Bill blogs about his experiences at Attorney at Work.

Illustration ©ImageZoo.

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