A diverse and high-level personal network can form the core of an extraordinary legal career. But merely having a network isn’t enough — you must know how to acquire influence and establish loyalty. This month, David Ackert and Tiffany Yarde will speak on “The Power of Relationships: How to Build an Influential Network” at the 2015 Legal Marketing Association Annual Conference. Here’s a preview.
A common frustration among lawyers is that their networks are too low caliber to provide access to decision-makers. If you have a business development plan, it is probably too generic to give you a meaningful edge over the competition. You wish you had started planting the seeds of opportunity earlier — but as a new lawyer, you didn’t have the expertise or network to make traditional marketing activities fruitful.
It’s a conundrum that can’t be solved by attending more bar association events or cocktail mixers. Instead, try using these two strategies to upgrade your network and identify better business opportunities.
Strategy One: The Business Mentor
You don’t have to be a young lawyer to benefit from a business mentor, but you do need to accept that there are people who are just as knowledgeable about business as you are about the law. What you are looking for is someone outside your firm (preferably not another lawyer) who is willing and able to advise you as you round out your skill set. There are just three simple steps.
1. Identify your potential mentor. This should be a business or community leader from your extended network who can accelerate your connection to client opportunities — a former employer, a leader in your religious community, a friend of the family, or even a personal service provider. A good business mentor is usually in a position of influence, such as a founder, partner, executive director, key fundraiser, CEO, rabbi or priest.
2. Broach the topic of mentorship. Start with a modest request, such as lunch or coffee, during which you can ask for advice. Explain that you are working on raising the caliber of your business network and that you admire their success in this regard. Ask what they would do if they were in your shoes, then follow their recommendations.
3. Formalize the mentoring relationship. Circle back with them after you have implemented their suggestions and let them know how things went. They will start to become invested in your success when they learn that you are using their advice to advance yourself.
The cynical networker might question whether an established business or community leader would want anything to do with a lawyer seeking business input. But people who are prone to mentoring get a great deal out of the relationship. It is a flattering thing when a lawyer asks for advice. It also gives those who mentor an opportunity to give back and expand their legacy. The right candidates will place a high value on giving back to a smart, ambitious lawyer who seeks them out for career guidance. Also, chances are your chosen mentor will need legal advice at some point in your relationship, at which point you can return the favor.
Strategy Two: The “5-5-5”
You will likely find that one mentor isn’t enough. A “5-5-5” strategy deepens your influence and builds more networking relationships through diversification. This network structure can help young lawyers, in particular, achieve a balanced network of healthy relationships, 15 people at a time. The goal is to use the group to test ideas, get insights and gain inspiration that will, ultimately, make you a better lawyer and better-rounded professional.
To start a 5-5-5 network, review your LinkedIn connections, law school alumni directory, the business cards stuffed in your desk drawer and your firm’s employee phone list. You are looking for three sets of five to make up your personal network, in these categories.
1. Industries. Select at least five mentors from varying industries and perspectives.
2. Years of experience. Your second group of five should be individuals who have a few more years of experience than you — perhaps one is a peer you worked with as opposing counsel on your last assignment, for example. Names can also come from your bar association roster or your contacts prior to law school.
3. Movers and shakers. Your final group of five should be individuals who are making real strides in their respective fields, regardless of age or position. These could be people you have been introduced to, such as the doctor you met recently or the director of a nonprofit organization you have been meaning to contact.
Make a point, each fall, to review your relationships and refresh your network with new names annually. Don’t be afraid to remove people who weren’t responsive or helpful throughout the year. This is your network and it should work for you!
Use These as Building Blocks
Applying these two strategies — the business mentor and the 5-5-5 — can advance your career by connecting you to important relationships. Make them fundamental tenets in your networking to improve the results of your business development efforts.
David Ackert is an entrepreneur and business development mentor. Through his company, Ackert Inc., he has developed and implemented business development programs for some of the top firms in the Am Law 100. He is founder of Practice Boomers, a Your Honor Award-winning business development e-learning platform, as well as Practice Pipeline, a pipeline management software tool that incorporates business development coaching. He holds a master’s in psychology.
Tiffany Yarde is a practice development manager at White & Case LLP. She is founder of a New York City networking group that connects taste-makers and business leaders with enterprising adults from all five boroughs. She started her career in public accounting (Big 4) and earned a master’s in human capital management from New York University.