The following is a guest blog post by Anabella Q. Bonfa. Ms. Bonfa is a litigator with Wellman & Warren LLP and has built a reputation for handling business and partnership disputes, theft of trade secrets, and unfair competition. She lectures extensively on trade secrets, networking, and using social media to develop business.
In every lawyer’s career there comes a time when they have to start networking and bringing in clients. This usually involves attending functions, meeting new people, and eventually the dreaded “networking lunch.” The lunch is usually dreaded because new lawyers erroneously think it’s only about selling their law firm and they don’t want to be a salesperson. But that’s really not what it’s about: Here’s a plan for getting through networking lunches in a way that’s easy, rewarding, and, most importantly, involves minimal “sales.”
- Make sure your social profile looks professional. Before you start networking, do an internet search on yourself. Do you like what you see? Is your law firm website up-to-date and accurate? Is your LinkedIn profile complete? It’s likely your social media profile and website will be reviewed by people who network with you, so make sure you’re putting your best foot forward.
- Do thorough research on the person you’re meeting before the lunch occurs. No successful networking lunch can occur if you’re not prepared. Before the lunch, read everything you can about your lunch date, including his or her LinkedIn profile, website biography, and any articles they have written or others’ have written about them. Being prepared gives you subjects to talk about during lunch and helps you with Step 3.
- Come prepared to offer some value to your new connection. Networking isn’t about selling yourself, it’s about doing something valuable for your new networking contact and being genuine. Use the information you learned while researching to offer value. For example, advise your new contact on what you liked about their social media/website, make marketing suggestions, introduce him or her to a useful contact, or get him or her a speaking engagement.
- Make your lunch all about your new connection, not you. The worst mistake new networkers make is talking about themselves throughout the lunch. The lunch should be about your new contact, not you. Be curious and find out about his or her legal specialty, type of clients, personal interests, and whatever else will help you be of service to him or her. Eventually the topic of conversation will get around to you, and when it does, be prepared to tell a short story about how you helped a client. Stories are much easier to remember than a list of legal specialties and will hopefully lead your contact to ask follow-up questions.
- Follow up with a thank you note. Handwritten notes are a nice touch, but at the very least, send a thank you email to your new contact after the lunch. Confirm what you learned about his or her specialty/area of knowledge in the email; this shows you listened and understood what he or she had to say. You can then take this information and insert it into Outlook notes or a database for future reference.
- Do whatever you told your new connection you were going to do. Nothing will make you lose points faster than failing to do something you said you would do during your lunch. For example, make the introduction you promised or send your new contact the article you mentioned.
- Follow up. New networkers tend to have one lunch with many people in a row and fail to follow up with any of them. No matter how much someone likes you, if they never hear from you again, they will forget you. Mark on your calendar to follow up with him or her about 2-3 months out. If you reach out with a call or email, you’ll show that your new contact is still on the top of your mind.
For more on acquiring clients through marketing and other methods, check out CEB’s California Basic Practice Handbook, chap 1—a great book for anyone starting out in law practice. Get more networking tips in CEB’s upcoming Livecast How to Hang Your Shingle: Attracting Clients on May 13, 2016.
Other CEBblog™ posts you may find useful:
- Starting Your Law Practice: Taking the First Steps
- 7 Tips to Becoming a Great Legal Networker
- The Bare Basics of Networking Events
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