Remember your first day in elementary school, and all the new things – taking a school bus, meeting new kids from other neighborhoods, to say nothing of lots of new rules? As a lawyer, it’s been 20 years or more since your first school days, but those beginnings can still teach you plenty about adapting to unfamiliar settings and new challenges – like attracting clients to build your law practice.
That all-important grade-school concept of “getting along, is now known as “networking.” Let’s be clear at the start: your primary goal in networking won’t usually be signing up new business for your law firm on the spot. Instead, it’s more like the advantages you may remember if your grade-school classmates decided you were worth their time getting to know. Once you passed that test, you were on your way to turning new acquaintances into friends.
Something similar happens in practicing law: a new client may get referred to your criminal law practice by a law school friend whose firm only handles civil cases, because you’re seen as reliable and knowledgeable. (It also shows law school is another place networking can pay dividends down the line.) Similarly, new business can result when a social contact from a church or charity asks you about a legal problem a friend or relative is having.
While your firm will doubtless employ other marketing efforts, word of mouth is a powerful tool.
Learn to Work, and Play, Well with Others
In grade school, your report card not only tracked your progress with numbers and the alphabet, but also how well-socialized you were inside the classroom and on the playground at recess. In your current professional life, that process continues, less formalized but just as real. It is a serious mistake, especially for a lawyer in solo practice or a very small firm, to become isolated from other lawyers. There’s much to be learned from more seasoned practitioners, not all of it found in your law books. Bar association and other continuing legal education contacts can also mean professional referrals.
Don’t Be Too Shy to Take Advantage of Your Chances
Having been to law school, you know not all lawyers are natural extroverts. In fact, many are of a more reserved, bookish nature. If that’s at least partly true for you, here are some ways to develop and capitalize on opportunities, without having a total personality transplant. You can start by joining and becoming active in professional groups. Nearly all need volunteers to work on their activities, and some have active mentoring programs. Both offer fine opportunities for meeting and working with your peers, in a low-pressure environment.
In conferences, social events and other networking opportunities, plan ahead how you’ll make maximum use of your opportunities. Have plenty of business cards, dress appropriately, and arrive early. Think of some likely discussion topics, ask open-ended questions, and listen to responses. You don’t have to (and in fact shouldn’t) dominate conversations – it’s far better, and easier, to get others to talk about themselves. Beyond face-to-face contacts, building online contacts through blogs and social media tools like LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook, as well as law-specific ones, can also help you get better known.
Smart Kids Gain by Being Regular Folks
In law school, you probably heard this advice about forming study groups: always invite people smarter than you. Even then, there were probably some academic hotshots whom you knew you wouldn’t be able to stand having in your group. If you’re hunting for new legal work or a job change, brilliance may get you so far, but don’t be surprised prospective clients and employers also consider personal chemistry. So, when meeting others professionally, avoid ego-gratifying declarations or sweeping statements. You’ll do far better with a pleasant, low-key approach.
Zane Schwarzlose is a writer at Alamo Injury Attorneys, a personal injury law firm in San Antonio, Texas. Zane is glad he has a lot of friends who are attorneys.
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