5 Coffee Challenge can help build a client base

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Josh Beser. Photo by Arnie Adler.

For more than 35 years, Hollywood producer Brian Grazer has tracked down people who interest him and asked them to sit down with him for "curiosity conversations." He claims that these confabs with scientists, activists and artists have helped plant the seeds for movies like Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind.

Josh Beser, the general counsel at Canary, a security technology firm in Manhattan, has similar advice for young attorneys who want to learn to network. He calls it the Five Coffee Challenge, and he has created a 30-day program with guided instructions and email templates to teach lawyers how to meet and nurture potential clients by way of a coffee meeting.

It may seem silly to suggest that adult legal professionals need a lesson plan to help them meet with other people, but Beser says basic networking skills are in short supply in many law firm environments. Since going in-house at a technology firm, Beser says, he has been approached by many of his colleagues in law firms asking for advice on how to network with potential clients in the tech world.

“In the tech industry, grabbing a coffee or having a casual conversation is a natural way to learn from each other, but it is foreign in law firms,” he says. “I think more lawyers could benefit from slowing down and taking time to build relationships.”


The challenge is that many young lawyers do not have the time or the ability to build relationships early in their careers, so basic rainmaking skills are not developed.

“When young lawyers first come into a law firm, the partners want them to work and make their hours and receivables,” says Damian Thomas, co-chair of the ABA Section of Litigation’s Young Lawyer Leadership Program. “Then when you become more expensive, they suddenly expect you to start bringing in business, but they don’t tell you how.”

The goal of these meetings is not just to learn but also to discover through talking to someone how to give back to them and nurture a relationship—which could someday lead to new business.

“If you try a cookie-cutter approach to these [meetings] and ask everyone the same question, it’s going to be uncomfortable and you could look stupid,” Beser says. “But if you build the muscle, you can become comfortable and confident in your ability to meet people and foster relationships.”

Patrick Noonan, a third-year associate with Dinsmore & Shohl in San Diego, took the program in February 2015 and says that while the number of coffee meetings he sets up each month has fallen off, he still uses the program and has built and nurtured several valuable relationships through the coffee challenge.

“For me, the big thing has been learning about other people’s business,” he says. “Even if they already have an attorney, you can find out what is valuable to people and learn what needs they might have. It’s a great intelligence-gathering program.”

Thomas points out that a colleague, Miami criminal defense lawyer Mark Eiglarsh, taught him years ago to set up several coffee meetings a week to network with other attorneys and potential clients. Thanks to this commitment, Eiglarsh has become a criminal law expert who appears regularly on national TV.

“Mark told me that you have to be dogmatic about it, because you are too busy and have too much to do,” says Thomas. “He would call me like clockwork every two to three months for coffee and we’d get together. And I never saw him take notes, but somehow he would always mention something we had talked about last time.”

Beser says the program teaches attorneys how to ask questions and find out how to make yourself useful. One obvious place to start is to share information or resources such as a job opening, or to help someone fill a position. And simple gestures like thank-you notes help burn your name into a contact’s memory.

The system also includes checklists of things to do and ways to automate the system with email reminders. “People are busy. They don’t want to do 94 things. They want simple, direct instructions on what to do,” he says.

The program, available through the Law Leaders Lab, is just finishing its beta trial run and is available to the public. The question now is whether lawyers will be willing to pay for a course that teaches them how to better interact with other humans. Pricing is based on the number of attorneys participating.

“Anyone can meet over coffee,” Beser says. “The question is if you can build meetings into lifelong relationships.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “Contact High: 5 Coffee Challenge can help build a client base.”

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