Business Development

Four Tips for Meeting Two People in the Room

By | Nov.25.13 | Daily Dispatch, Law Practice, Legal Marketing, Networking


Lawyers typically dread attending events like annual bar association fundraisers, CLE conferences — or any gathering where there will be a large number of attendees. In short, they dread the type of event where their “working the room” skills are put to the test. To make connections that bring in new clients, though, you have to spend plenty of time outside of your office — and, sometimes, your comfort zone.

So let’s debunk a couple of erroneous assumptions about these events.

“Everyone else seems to be having a great time. Am I the only person who is miserable?”

Trust me, you are not the only person who would rather visit the dentist than attend the cocktail-hour portion of a large event. If I had to venture a guess, I’d estimate that at least 90 percent of attendees feel exactly the same way. Many lawyers are introverts by nature and are probably as miserable as you are. The few who seem to be having a good time may have indulged in a few too many.

“I’m a complete failure if I don’t leave here without a dozen business cards.”

Most lawyers who attend these events never leave their comfort zones. The only people they talk to are the people they already know — often colleagues from their own law firms. Most leave without meeting anyone new and without pocketing any new business cards. If you leave with only one business card, you are probably way ahead of everyone else.

Staying in Your Comfort Zone: A Simple Networking Plan

Here’s a simple plan to meet at least two new people, whether you are attending a cocktail reception, a luncheon or dinner, or a live lecture. It should be within almost anyone’s comfort zone.

1. Sit at a table of strangers. Whenever I attend a luncheon or dinner, I intentionally wait until the last minute to find a seat. I want to sit at a table where I don’t know anyone. Depending on the room’s acoustics and the conversation around the table, I can try to introduce myself to everyone. But that’s not necessary, as long as I meet the people sitting on either side of me. Ramping up your courage and introducing yourself to those two people should be well within your comfort zone.

2. Find a long drink line. Think of that long drink line as an opportunity, not an inconvenience. Never choose the line where the only person you will meet is the bartender. While waiting in a long line, take the time to meet and share a few words with the person in front of you and the person behind you. Successful networking can be as simple as that.

3. At the presentation, sit between strangers. Avoid the strong temptation at a lecture to sit in the last row in the corner, where you need binoculars to even see the speaker. You don’t have to sit in the front row, but you should make an effort to find a seat near people you don’t recognize. Here again, introduce yourself to your neighbors on either side.

4. Stay attuned to the fact that long shots come in. This approach to “working the room” would hardly be a key tactic within an attorney’s personal marketing plan — after all, you are meeting people randomly rather than strategically. It certainly is a long shot that any of these people will turn into actual clients or referral sources. But, as any horseplayer will tell you, you can win on long shots, but only if you place bets on a lot of races. In other words, the simple effort to consistently keep meeting new people should eventually lead to new business.

Roy Ginsburg is an attorney coach who works one-to-one in the areas of business development, practice management and career development. He has practiced law for more than 25 years in large to small firms and in a corporate setting. He is currently an active solo with a part-time practice in legal marketing ethics and employment law. Learn more at

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3 Responses to “Four Tips for Meeting Two People in the Room”

  1. Mike O'Horo
    25 November 2013 at 1:11 pm #

    I agree with Roy’s first three points, but not #4.

    This part is true: “It certainly is a long shot that any of these people will turn into actual clients or referral sources.”

    This is the self-negating part: “But, as any horseplayer will tell you, you can win on long shots, but only if you place bets on a lot of races.”

    Lawyers aren’t in position to bet on a lot of races. Most spend an hour or two per week on all forms of market outreach, not just networking. Under such time constraints, they’re simply not in position to play long shots.

    IMO, most lawyers’ networking approach is 100% long shots. They go to events hoping to meet an undefined “someone” who, under undefined conditions, will hire or refer them at some undefined point in the future. Could anything be more vague, and, therefore, more of a long shot?

    Again, IMO, lawyers would be better off dumping the idea of “networking,” with its implied randomness and hoping, in favor of “hunting,” i.e., knowing exactly who would have a reason to need someone with your skills, and under what conditions. Knowing this, you only attend events with a high likelihood of being populated with such people. You spend your time filtering the room, briefly discussing the problem that you solve, looking for those who acknowledge having that problem, and disengaging from others as quickly as possible.

    Let’s put this in a dating context. Let’s say that, over time, you realize that your passion for playing tennis means that having a good tennis player as a mate is really important and that, conversely, a non-playing mate will be a source of friction because of the amount of time and money you spend playing. You don’t go to a generic mixer; you go to one that has a tennis theme, and you filter the crowd for serious players. Not a serious player? Move on. You’re looking for serious players only; you can’t afford to waste time with people who aren’t. While you’re talking to a non-player, you’re not looking for a player.

    If you find yourself at a generic mixer, as soon as possible after saying hello, you find a way to learn whether or not this person plays tennis, and how seriously. If he or she doesn’t, why would you stick around at all, much less invest time cultivating them in the unfounded hope that somehow, they’ll start playing tennis, and playing well? You’ll move on, looking for tennis players. Non-tennis players are irrelevant to your purpose.

    Too much of lawyers’ business networking consists of hanging around with no purpose, happy to talk with anyone who can fog a mirror, thinking that coming home with a biz card from anyone who can fog a mirror constitutes some type of success.

    Know what you’re looking for, and make it your purpose to find it.

    For example, for 20 years I associated myself with the problem of partners who had extensive contact lists but disappointing origination. At a law-industry event, I’d eyeball name tags, looking for BigLaw firms. In conversation, I’d make an observation, “Gee, it seems like big law firms have a lot of partners who have impressive contacts, but not so impressive books of business. Is that true of your firm?” Obviously, this is a universal condition that guarantees a “yes.” We talk about the problem and its ramifications for a few minutes, when I continue, “This is very interesting, but I don’t want to monopolize your time. Does it make sense for us to continue this discussion by phone next week?”

    If they don’t acknowledge the problem, or don’t want to discuss it further, it’s time to disinvest. This is a long shot, at best. You can’t invest in long shots, and there’s no reason to. To continue the horse-racing metaphor, only bet short odds. Find someone who is obligated to care about the problem, and who will cultivate people like you who are relevant to their problem.

    Just my $.02.

  2. Roy Ginsburg
    25 November 2013 at 1:57 pm #

    Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough about #4 and long shots. My point was that when you find yourself at some CLE, benefit or the like (some of which may be targeted to the precise people you want to meet and others that may not, but you needed to attend anyway), here is a way to meet a few new people in a manner that should be in one’s comfort zone. This post was not intended to be a comprehensive roadmap of all of the things you should be doing at the event.

    Furthermore, my suggestions #1-3, are not significant time investments. At the event, you need to eat, you need to drink and you need to show up at the seminar. That’s six new people you can meet. Most lawyers go out of their way in these situations not to meet anyone new. I wouldn’t recommend any significant time investments with these folks until after you have qualified them in the manner that you suggest. That can be done while waiting in line, eating, or during speaker breaks.

    You do this a few times a year and that’s 18 or 24 or 30 people new people. I have got to believe that after doing some qualification, 1 or 2 of them will be good prospects. In my mind, that’s long shot odds. Then, of course, you follow up with the 1 or 2, which is time that is well spent, with the hope of turning the prospect into a client.