Is your firm considering membership in a law firm network? If you’re already a member, how can your firm achieve more value through your participation?
Formal legal networks, such as Lex Mundi/World Services Group, have long been viewed as advantageous for independent law firms seeking to (1) extend global reach, (2) increase business opportunities, and (3) gain a competitive edge.
But are they worth the cost of membership?
Some firms don’t think so, yet many swear by the enhanced credibility and referrals that membership brings.
But whether your firm is looking to gain clients or associates, networking is only effective if done right. Using a few examples of networking gone wrong—thanks to Intuit QuickBase’s 10 Most Embarrassing Neworking Stories—we have a few guidelines to help:
Make yourself known with a unique introduction.
The problem with networking events is that most people come away without hundreds of business cards and almost no memory of who offered them. Unfortunately, if you’re a Mike, Mark, Melissa, or Mary, common names mean you might be quickly marginalized.
This is why it’s so important to introduce yourself with an interesting anecdote. Make yourself noticed—in a good way:
“I attended a multi-day conference that provided all meals for attendees in an effort to have everyone network during said meals. Breakfast each morning was held in an area accessed by walking down a flight of stairs. I was headed down the stairs, looking into the room to see who was already at breakfast and thinking about who I might eat and chat with. I lost my footing and rolled/bounced all the way down to the breakfast area with my laptop tumbling behind me. Of course, everyone stopped eating and talking and started gasping and staring. Everyone knew who I was after that!”
A trip and fall situation may get you noticed, but for the wrong things. Try to introduce yourself in a way that get’s you remembered in a positive light. For example, if you like to rock climb in your free time, introducing yourself as the 3rd year associate who climbs rocks, characterizes you as somebody willing to take taking calculated risks. It’s also something small, but singular that other people will certainly remember.
Pay attention and remember details of other professionals.
When you’re meeting tons of professionals, sometimes it’s hard to pay attention. While somebody’s pitching themselves to you, it’s quite likely you’ve spent a few seconds dozing off, starting to thing about what’s for dinner, or becoming acutely aware how warm the room is.
Instead, be an active listener. When somebody introduces themselves, repeat their name back to them. “Hi Paul, I’m Patricia. Nice to meet you.” Or, when they mention a specific activity, follow-up with a pertinent question pertaining to it.
If you’re not good with names, don’t risk calling somebody by the wrong one. Here’s why.
“I am very bad at names. I often recognize people, but can’t remember why. I was at lunch one day with a coworker who usually works at another building, and I said to her something about how she knew So-and-So (an older portly gentleman), who was sitting at a table right next to us. She turned and looked, and said, ‘That’s not So-and-So.’ The gentleman, who had heard me, also turned and said, ‘I’m not So-and-So.’ I had mixed him up with another older, portly gentleman. I was greatly embarrassed, especially because he seemed to find the mix-up insulting. From then on out, every time I saw this guy, I made sure to say his name, repeatedly, so that he would know I knew who he was. But a year and a half later, I found out I had still been calling him by the wrong name.”
Err on being politically correct.
As in the previous example, it could be said that it’s best to err on being correct—don’t use a person’s name if you’re not sure of it. But, it’s definitely best to be politically correct in a room of professionals. Don’t use networking as the time to try out a new potentially offensive joke. Politics, religion, and personal trials and tribulations are always off the table.
“I signed up for a mentoring program to be matched up with a local executive. I was matched with a guy, and we went to lunch. When I let him know I was pregnant, since it might affect scheduling during the 6-month program, he let me know how much kids ruined his marriage and his wife’s career. Awesome, mentor.”
As a more experienced professional, don’t treat every younger associate as chance to pass on personal advice (that’s what grandkids are for).
Ask questions—lots of questions!
Finally, when networking, it’s important to ask lots of questions. Asking questions is a way to signal your interest in the other person, as well as a method for gathering more information about their professional expertise. Of course, like anything, it’s important to ask the right questions.
“Our bank was in the process of merging with another bank. During the merger process, all the teller managers had to attend meetings with people from other banks going through the same process… I started talking to the woman who was running the meeting. She was the equivalent of a district manager and was around my age (early 20s). I was really impressed with the fact that she was at this stage of her career at such a young age, because I was aspiring to rise to the same level. I asked her how she got started, what were her responsibilities, etc. During our talk, she mentioned how she was thinking of going back to finish up school (she said ‘school’ not ‘degree’). Stupid me asks, “Oh? High school or college?’ Thankfully she just said ‘college’ and moved the conversation to another topic. Even though she didn’t acknowledge my gaffe with so much as a blink, I still was praying a sinkhole would open up below me.”
Whether you’re 12, 22, 32, 42 and above, referring to age is a tricky issue. If you’re at all confused about a person’s age or status, ask more roundabout questions to get at your answer. Instead of “high school or college,” in the above example (which is not as far-fetched an error as it may first appear), the networking teller should have asked, “are you looking at any specific schools?” or “how much more education would you like to get?”
When it comes to age, never make assumptions.
Networking can be a great tool for law firms and attorneys to meet new clients or hire new talent. However, first impressions are powerful. Make sure your firm’s representatives are well versed in the basics of holding productive conversations.
Need some more concrete advice about how your firm and its associates can start to network productively? Take C4CM’s webinar, “Maximizing Legal Networks to Build Relationships, Increase Business and Expand Firm Reach,” on Thursday, February 25, 2016 at 2:00 PM Eastern.
This information-packed webinar led by a power-house panel of experts offers step by step guidance surrounding:
- Potential advantages and disadvantages of legal network membership,
- Best practices for choosing a network that best fits your firm’s goals and objectives, and
- Practical methods to get your money’s worth once your firm signs on the dotted line.
During this comprehensive program, you will learn:
- How to increase the volume and quality of inbound and outbound referrals
- Ways to get the most value for your association/network spend
- How to use network membership to build better working relationships and win clients
- Global advantages and disadvantages for firms as members of legal networks
- How to retain your firm’s brand distinction, while maximizing broader branding opportunities