Networking: How successful lawyers do it and why you should, too
Networking is a skill that seems like a relic of the 20th century. In society today, we have social media, texting and videoconferencing. These do not substitute for the personal contact, attention and commitment necessary for building lasting relationships.
Ask any successful lawyer how he or she built a practice, and you’ll hear, “It’s all about relationships.” The success of a law firm depends on maintaining and expanding relationships with existing clients and attracting new ones. You can’t do that unless you’re engaging with people and genuinely committed to helping others.
As long as the compensation of partners is determined, in large part, by the amount of business he or she originates and controls, there is no more effective way to make people aware of you and what you do.
HOW DO YOU NETWORK EFFECTIVELY?
Networking is important for long-term success. The relationships you establish become lasting friendships, as well as produce business. It’s about building and managing relationships; immediate financial rewards are secondary.
In his book Give and Take, Adam Grant, a professor of management and psychology at the Wharton School, classifies people as Takers and Givers. “If you’re a taker you help others strategically when the benefits to you outweigh the personal costs … If you’re a giver at work you simply strive to be generous in sharing your time, energy, knowledge, skills, ideas and connections with other people who can benefit from them.”
WHO CAN YOU HELP?
Be alert to opportunities every day. You never can tell when an opportunity will be presented.
For example, I’m a member of a private golf and tennis club. People join such clubs not only to enjoy the tennis, golf, swimming and dining, but also to expand their community of social and business relationships.
At the club I became friendly with a father and son who practice law together in their own firm. We decided to explore finding legal matters on which we could work jointly and be helpful to each other. They had a client with a complex international tax matter involving a significant amount of money. While they had an important relationship with the client, they did not have the international tax expertise to handle the matter. However, my firm had the experience, skill and depth to handle the situation. We worked together for about six years and achieved a very favorable result for the mutual client.
Interactions that can lead to new business relationships are not unusual, you just need to be aware of them. In speaking to new associates at my firm on the importance of bar association work, I often ask, “How many hours a week do you work?” I believe that, billable hours aside, you have to be aware of opportunities all the time.
NETWORKING OPPORTUNITIES: THEY’RE EVERYWHERE
If you’re interacting with people, you are networking. Just a few examples to keep in mind:
- Any breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, sporting event or concert
- Large gatherings, such as cocktail parties or college, high school or graduate school events, produce opportunities to meet new people that can then be followed up by individual meetings
- School reunions and committees in support of your schools
- Bar association activities for local, state and the ABA
- Educational programs and seminars
- Community and religious organizations
- Other nonprofit activities
HOW CAN YOU HELP BRING PEOPLE TOGETHER?
To illustrate this point, a quick anecdote: I had a doctor client who was looking for a real estate developer to build a medical office building in a suburb of Boston. I had another client who owned a large piece of well-located vacant land. It occurred to me that I could be helpful to both parties by introducing them to each other. I arranged a meeting between them, which led to their agreement to work together on the development of the building. As a result, I represented the real estate owner in the development of the medical office building, including significant ongoing leasing for the project.
BAR ASSOCIATION OPPORTUNITIES
Capitalize on the opportunities presented by your participation in bar events. In the course of my work as a co-chair of the Boston Bar Association, Real Estate Section, I was recommended to teach at Boston University Law School, which I have done for the last seven years.
Several years ago, I co-authored an article for the ABA’s Real Property, Probate and Trust Journal, which led to an invitation to speak at a subsequent annual meeting of the ABA Real Estate Section, and to write other articles that were published. When you raise your profile via writing articles or speaking engagements, that’s a form of networking. It can also enhance your reputation and the reputation of your firm.
Similarly, maintaining relationships with law school or undergraduate peers is worth exploring.
NETWORKING GROUPS FOR COLLEGES AND GRADUATE SCHOOLS
In June 2017, I was instrumental in the formation of a networking group for graduates of my alma mater. My involvement has led to many new professional relationships and friendships, not only with lawyers, but also with other graduates involved in businesses. It also resulted in my being asked to join the National Lawyers Association of my college as the Boston representative.
Subsequently, I organized a planned giving event for the benefit of my college. Panel participants were other alumni, and attendees all were graduates of the college or parents of students at the college. In addition, I facilitated an introduction of a panelist from Boston who has a company in San Francisco to a member of the College National Lawyers Association in San Francisco.
BE NICE, CONSIDERATE AND COMPLIMENT OTHERS: THAT’S NETWORKING, TOO
When we are busy and feel we don’t have time to get everything done, we can be inconsiderate of people who work for clients or other business contacts. In building relationships, it’s important to focus on clients’ administrative staff. Be considerate. Their goodwill will be important to you.
Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People was written in 1936, but his lessons are still true today. Compliment people when they deserve to be complimented; “Give honest, sincere appreciation” is Carnegie’s Principle 2. You may never know the impact your kindness will have.
A few years ago, I applied that principle when I had a medical test administered by a young hospital technician. During the test, the technician informed me that, like me, his father was a lawyer. When the test was completed, I told the technician I wanted to call his father to compliment him on his son’s professional demeanor. I told him that my father had always appreciated it if someone complimented me to him.
Years later, the technician called me and related how much my words meant to his father. He told me that his father even mentioned the call at his wedding! The technician then explained that he was buying a residential property and needed legal advice. His father said if he hired me as his lawyer, the father would pay my fee. While I appreciated the offer, I wasn’t the appropriate lawyer to handle the matter. Notwithstanding that, the experience made a big impression on me as to the importance of complimenting people when they deserve to be complimented.
NETWORKING TRAINING FOR YOUNG LAWYERS
The ability to network effectively requires training and guidance. My firm recognizes this. When associates join our firm, there is an orientation program that includes a presentation by me on the importance of community service and involvement in bar associations, in our case the Boston Bar, Massachusetts Bar and American Bar Associations. To further this commitment, my firm provides all lawyers with a complementary membership to the BBA and encourages participation on committees. I recommend that all firms have a committee to guide attorneys on the importance of bar association activities and community service and consider providing that guidance to people when they are elevated to partnership.
Senior lawyers in a firm can continue to provide assistance to fellow lawyers in networking and in other areas, including engaging third parties as consultants. Recently, I was approached by two lawyers in my firm who are handling a major case. They wanted to engage a retired judge to consult on strategy. I recommended a long-standing friend of mine, and that person was hired.
THE VALUE OF RELATIONSHIPS
Relationships are the bedrock of winning and keeping business. When you focus on helping others, you will find that it leads to intangible benefits and satisfaction, not only in the production of business but in building lasting and rewarding friendships and relationships. In an article in the New York Times on Nov. 30, 2018, headlined, “It’s Not the Economy, Stupid,” David Brooks concluded, “It’s not jobs, jobs, jobs anymore. It’s relationships, relationships, relationships.”
Richard H. Goldman is senior counsel at Sullivan & Worcester in the firm’s real estate and trusts and estates groups. His practice includes acquisitions and sales of commercial real estate, leasing, financing, probate and estate planning and representation of closely held businesses and nonprofit entities. He also is an adjunct professor of law at Boston University Law School.
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