Networking can feel like a dirty word, but getting your name out there is often an essential part of marketing and business development for attorneys practicing at smaller firms or on their own.
Above the Law spoke with several small firm attorneys about what they’ve found works best when networking with the goal of gaining or retaining new clients. Read on to hear what they have to say.
Express Authentic Interest
One of the most common sources of trepidation regarding networking is the fear that one might come off as sleazy or self-centered, like a business school undergraduate testing out techniques learned by skimming How to Win Friends and Influence People.
The antidote, according to two small firm attorneys, is to be your authentic self. Remember that you’re building a relationship — not just a business opportunity — with someone who likely shares many of your professional interests and might even jump at the chance to talk shop with another enthusiast.
“Don’t network for the sole purpose of generating business; you’ll be lumped in with everyone else doing the same thing as you are,” says Portland, Maine-based family law solo practitioner Janene Oleaga. “Share your ‘why’ and people will remember you.”
“Gone are the days of stuffy lawyers. Clients and colleagues want to work with people who are kind, personable and helpful,” adds New York City-based IP and contract firm solo practitioner Pamela Rosario.
“My best networking has come from literally reaching out to an attorney or other business owner that I admire and asking them for a quick Zoom or phone call to hear about their work and their business journey.”
Demonstrate Your Expertise
If reaching out to other professionals doesn’t feel like a fit for how you want to build new business, consider focusing on building a reputation for expertise as a business person or in your primary legal practice area.
“For many, including me, schmoozing is a challenge,” says personal injury and workers’ compensation attorney Daniel J. Siegel of the Havertown, Pennsylvania, firm of the same name.
“I have networked by publishing newsletters (one goes to a couple of thousand lawyers and judges), by writing and lecturing frequently, and by remaining active in numerous bar associations,” he says.
“It’s a lot of time and juggling, but for those of us who find that traditional methods don’t always work, these techniques have helped.”
Siegel adds that he places a significant focus on developing and maintaining his firm’s web presence. Doing so, he says, has made it easier to network with potential clients and colleagues local to his office.
Network with a Strategy
“One of the reasons I founded my own practice was to get more involved in the business side of the law and take control of the strategy of growing a client base,” says John Joy, CEO and Managing Attorney of the New York-based firm FTI Law.
“Networking is a critical part of this, but it’s important that networking is strategic if you want it to pay dividends. If your networking doesn’t have a strategy, you can spend a lot of time attending events that will make you ‘feel’ productive, but won’t deliver the results you want.”
Joy recommends taking the “upstream” approach to networking, which emphasizes connecting with people who are likely to refer new clients to you rather than directly building relationships with potential clients.
“There is a mountain of data showing that people respond best to recommendations made by someone they know when it comes to hiring professional services,” he states. “This is why recommendations are so valuable and it’s important to identify people and networks who may be in a position to refer you, rather than hire you.”
Building a network of non-attorney professionals means gaining access to events and other networks that aren’t already packed with other lawyers, Joy adds. This reduces the chances that you’ll be competing against other attorneys for the same business.
“This is where you can stand out, especially if you are just starting to build your practice.” Joy says.
Don’t Forget to Leverage Social Media
Claudia Cobreiro, a family, business, and real estate law solo practitioner based in Miami, credits the COVID-19 pandemic for pushing her to explore alternatives to traditional, in-person networking.
Presenting her authentic day-to-day as an attorney on social media — especially on Instagram, where she has about 6,000 followers — has paid dividends in the form of new clients. Cobreiro credits her social media presence with bringing in about “80 to 85 percent” of her business.
Social media also offers a well-paved path for demonstrating subject matter expertise, Cobreiro says, whether that means breaking down a recent legal win or her morning routine.
Cobreiro’s social media strategy incorporates much of the advice given by other attorneys in this article.
For example, Cobreiro says she tries to minimize curation in favor of presenting her authentic self in a manner similar to that suggested by Oleaga and Rosario.
Social media networking also tends to help create connections with non-attorneys, she says, allowing her to pursue what is essentially a digital version of Joy’s recommended “upstream” networking strategy.
“I started realizing that my areas of law, which are family, real estate, probate, estate planning, and business law, are catered to everyday people,” Cobreiro says.
“I was like, ‘Why am I networking with other attorneys who would only send me a client if they don’t have another attorney that [could handle the matter] that they liked better? I can go straight to my ideal client, which is the consumer.”
Cobreiro stresses three factors for attorneys looking to up their social media game. First, forget any stigmas about using social media, and know that having an active Instagram is not a sign that you have too much free time.
Second, being confident and comfortable in your content is key to presenting an authentic face to your followers.
Lastly, look into whether your state or local bar association has published information regarding legal advertising and social media or about ethical best practices for attorneys when using social media. Understand and adhere to any relevant available guidance.
Ethan Beberness is a Brooklyn-based writer covering legal tech, small law firms, and in-house counsel for Above the Law. His coverage of legal happenings and the legal services industry has appeared in Law360, Bushwick Daily, and elsewhere.
Leave a Reply