Question: I’m an inexperienced lawyer, and naturally timid. How can I be expected to thrive in a networking environment? What’s the best way to follow up after meeting someone new? When should I ask for their business?
Marguerite Downey: Not everyone is, nor should everyone try to be, the life of the party. But there are a few methods that will allow even the most timid among us to leave a lasting positive impression that can generate business.
First, understand the setting. Dressing appropriately for the occasion will give you a sense of confidence.
Next, identify the target audience. Understanding your clients’ needs and being able to convey what your law firm can do for them is the difference between paying the bills or not.
Up to this point, everything has been preparation. Now it is time for execution.
Maintain eye contact and extend a firm handshake. Make the other person feel as if he or she is the only person in the room. You may not be a great conversationalist but you do have access to a secret weapon that can captivate your audience quite nicely. Simply ask thought-provoking questions to cultivate a common ground. How that conversation goes determines whether or not a stronger pitch is in order — at a later time. Less is more in the initial stages of a dialogue. And don’t forget to follow up using LinkedIn.
Regardless of the specific steps you take, integrity, character and competence should always be your calling cards.
Marguerite G. Downey has nearly 20 years of experience with international business development. She is the former president of the LMA’s Capital Chapter, chair of the Solo/Small Firm SIG and a member of the Strategies magazine editorial committee. Marguerite is the director of communications and client services at Adduci, Mastriani & Schaumberg, LLP in Washington, DC.
Tina Emerson: Everyone has strengths. Some are natural and some are learned. The key is identifying your strengths and making the most of them. For example, a young lawyer with two years of experience can be a networking rock star but isn’t going to be referred business the way a seasoned litigator would. However, that young lawyer does have a great opportunity to broaden his contact list, ask a lot of questions of new acquaintances and build relationships with other young professionals who will, one day, be in a position to send work.
Reaping the benefits from marketing takes time, and it is never too early to begin sowing.
That “seasoned litigator” I mentioned? Well, she might be a bet-the-company attorney, but if she loathes working the room, how did she become so well-known? If she knows her strengths, she is aware that her marketing might be less effective in a crowd, but it works on paper. She is a thought leader because her blog is active and well read, she publishes articles frequently and she shares her knowledge as a prepared speaker at industry conferences. And when she absolutely must attend that reception, she rarely goes alone. Networking for the shy is always easier with an enthusiastic wing man (or woman, of course). Even Maverick needed a Goose — or an Iceman, depending on which is your favorite.
Following up with each new contact can be tedious, but you never know when the next referral will pop up. Have a plan in place for reaching out to new contacts — whether a simple email, a handwritten note with a lunch invitation or a packaged brochure. Your approach should be consistent, in that the initial meeting is never the last time they hear from you. This is your opportunity to share more information about your practice without the “hard sell,” and for prospective clients this is the chance to decide if continued contact with you will benefit them — not only for their legal needs, but for their own professional networks.
Everyone in a business relationship is aware that the other party would appreciate referrals. Instead of just asking for business, think about how you can help your new contacts prosper by making beneficial introductions and learning more about what they do. Demonstrating a sincere interest in the prospective client and his or her goals could make asking for work unnecessary when they already see you as a partner and want you to be involved in their legal matters.
Tina Emerson is the marketing director at Rogers Townsend & Thomas, PC, in Columbia, SC. Follow her on Twitter @tfemerson.
Jim Jarrell: These are three great questions that relate to the problem all attorneys face: understanding the legal sales cycle and its dependence on networking and relationship-building. To help a young and inexperienced attorney thrive in a networking environment, I usually give two pieces of advice. First, I remind them that they have to put themselves out there — the only way to conquer that fear of networking is to network. Second, I counsel them on the virtues of preparation.
I encourage my attorneys to find out who they may meet at an upcoming networking event (many organizations are happy to share attendee lists before an event). Narrow the list to five “must-meet” people and do some research about them. This may seem a bit like stalking, but it will give you a baseline for asking thoughtful questions to learn more about the attendees. Nothing kills a networking encounter quicker than exhausting all the obligatory questions: “What do you do?” “What does your company do?” “Where are you from?”
Follow-up would seem to be the easiest thing in the world to do, but it is the most ignored step in the relationship-building process. In this age of electronic correspondence, it is perfectly acceptable to shoot an email to someone you met saying how pleased you were to meet them. But go a step further and think back on your conversation — is there a topic of interest that you can use to continue the conversation, or was there a legal issue or other topic they mentioned? If so, find a way to engage this new contact by sharing relevant content, such as an article, presentation, client alert or simply, ”Can we continue the conversation over coffee/lunch/dinner?”
This will not only help keep you top-of-mind with your new contact, but you demonstrate some thought leadership in an area of concern to them. What you don’t want to do is immediately flood them with your bio and a brochure. If you haven’t established a need for services, your contact is likely to be turned off by the overture.
This brings us to “the ask.” Timing for “the ask” depends on where your relationship is with this contact. Have you determined that your contact is the decision-maker or has access to the decision-makers? Have you established yourself as a subject-matter expert through ongoing engagement? Have you determined that there is a need for legal services and a demand to hire outside counsel? Since legal hiring is based on relationships and trust, if you can’t answer those questions affirmatively, you probably haven’t done enough to build this relationship and ask for the business.
I say, keep nurturing that relationship until you can answer those questions affirmatively. Then you can ask.
Jim Jarrell manages marketing and business development activities for Indianapolis-based Barnes & Thornburg’s Litigation Department as a member of the firm’s Chicago office. Visit jimjarrell.com for more information. Follow him on Twitter @JimJarrell.
That’s a Good Question! What’s Yours?
No, not every law firm has a professional marketer or business development coach on staff to answer questions. So send us your questions via email or in the comment section below, and we’ll pass them on to the experts at the Legal Marketing Association. Watch for the best responses here in Ask the Expert.legalmarketing.org
The Legal Marketing Association provides professional support and education as well as opportunities for intellectual and practical information exchange.