Are You A Bad Networker?

hello-my-name-isI have a confession to make.  Up until last year, I was a bad networker.

When I started my solo practice, I didn’t have a network.  Two years out of the work force, many of my relationships were stale.  It was also pretty apparent that most of those connections were geared to an in-house practice I no longer had.

This meant I had to build a new network from scratch, a daunting task for someone who had NEVER networked before.

When I worked in-house, I wasn’t hustling for clients so I didn’t see the point.  This meant I had zero networking skills.

Starting out, I had no idea what I was supposed to do.  I didn’t know how or where to network.  So as you can guess, I made a few mistakes, and learned a few lessons over the years.

Here are 3 of my biggest lessons learned.

1. Find Thy Client.

My first big mistake was attending the wrong events.

For example, a friend mentioned a local networking group.  Several attorneys attended the meetings, and they were getting clients.  So I went.  I had a lovely time talking to the other attendees, but nothing happened.  No clients, no referrals.

What went wrong?

The group consisted of very nice women who ran local small businesses (think real estate agents, dog groomers, Mary Kay consultants).   However, they had no use for an intellectual property lawyer.  In fact, they were often a little perplexed about what I did.

Lesson #1: You need to find networking events that your ideal clients attend.

Now, I struggle through bad pitch contests and boring technology lectures, but my ideal clients like them, so I attend.  And guess what?  The opportunities are much better.

So, where can you find great networking events that are right for you?  Check out www.meetup.com.  It’s a website listing thousands of free events across the country in any category.  Seriously, the sheer number and type of groups is pretty astounding.

EventBrite is another great website to find local events, but they can cost more.

2. Stick Out your Hand and Say “Hello”.

Once I found the right groups, my second mistake was acting like the wallflower at a high school dance.

When I started to attend technology-focused events, I felt out of my element.  The room was filled with young, smart people talking about technology and their start-ups.  I was an outsider.  I felt pushy, like I was asking them a favor just to speak with me.

But I had to get over that.  They needed my services and I needed clients.

Lesson #2: You need to talk to the right people.

How did I get over it?

I introduce myself to the person next to me in the drink line or sitting by themselves waiting for the speaker to start.  Then, I ask them about what they do, and let them talk.

When they eventually ask me what I do, I respond:

  • “I teach start-ups how to understand their intellectual property.”
  • “I help companies put their patents to work.”
  • “I help companies use their best assets to build better businesses.”

I never start the conversation by saying “Hi Bob.  I’m Kelli.  I’m an intellectual property attorney.”  In my experience, defenses go up when I introduce myself as an attorney, and it shuts down any meaningful conversation thereafter.

If you are networking with your ideal clients (and non-attorneys), start the conversation with what you do not what you are. When people hear you’re an attorney, they assume they know what you do, and they are more apt to walk away thinking I don’t need her services.

Instead, I try to convey my value.  What would this person want to hear from an IP attorney?  Then I tweak my introduction and pitch to match.

Another way to start a conversation is to research those on the guest list before you attend.  Both Meetup.com and EventBrite.com will let you see the list of attendees. It helps when I can say that I saw that article featuring their company or I’m looking forward to hearing them speak or pitch.  There’s nothing worse than talking to someone, ask them what brought them here, just to find out they’re the guest speaker.

3. People like warm beverages.

My last big mistake was not following up with the new contacts I had met.

Networking doesn’t stop after the event.

I would come home with a stack of business cards.  I would connect with them on LinkedIn, follow them on twitter, and file the card away.  Then I would wait for them to call me.  As you might guess, not much came of that strategy.

Lesson #3. You need to stay in contact with the person after the event.

Be proactive.

  • Ask to get together over coffee.
  • Engage them through social media.
  • Ask them if they know of other events like the one you two met at.
  • Schedule a “get in touch email” for two months out.
  • Send articles that might be of interest to them.
  • Compliment them if you see them in the news.

Just make sure you keep in touch beyond the initial meeting.

For any solo attorney, networking is an invaluable skill to learn.  It’s how we get our message out to the masses most effectively.  People can’t refer clients to an attorney they haven’t met.

I’m a much better networker today.  I usually attend about 3 events per week.  I know where to hang-out, and how to approach complete strangers.  I even feel comfortable talking to people about what I do.

If you’re not networking well, I encourage you to get out there and learn your own lessons.  If you’re a great networker, let us know what your networking tips are in the comments below.

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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5 comments on “Are You A Bad Networker?

  • Thank you for this post because I think most all attorneys, and the overwhelming majority of law graduates are simply bad at networking.

    First, it is not that hard to do. 90% of it is just showing up.

    Second, lawyers just do not want to do it. There are a lot of reason for this, but mainly it is a desire to avoid rejection. The same people that did not mind hanging out with their group, going to parties, or attending study groups somehow believe networking is different and beneath them.

    Well, it is not. Many just spent $50,000 to $100,000 or more obtaining a law license. It is time for them to make this pay off. But, it is this idea that they have to be something they are not. Well, I’m hear to tell you that they do not have to be something they are not. They have to be who they are in multiple settings.

    These law graduates probably did not get a law job after law school because of they are bad at networking. Yet, somehow they believe they can go into a solo practice without doing so either.

    When I was young, I remember that there was a proctologist who ran for Congress. Most people would not think a proctologist would be too outgoing. But, I recall that he took out billboards of himself in his lab coat holding up a proctoscope with the tagline “I’m going to go to Washington and look up some new friends”.

    I’m being crude, but the point is that in reality the tagline is the same, minus the imagery. Networking is nothing more than looking up some new friends, and maintaining contact with the friends you have made.

    • Thank you for the comment. There is no doubt that good networking skills greatly improve your chances of getting a job and clients. Unfortunately many of us aren’t born great networkers and aren’t taught how to network in school. Also, many young lawyers aren’t encouraged to leave the office and network by their employers.

      • And if fact, I would say that many young lawyers are actively discouraged from networking in ways that will improve their careers. I have this discussion often with a close friend who is a partner in a large DC firm, an acknowledged expert in her field and involved in leadership with multiple sections in the ABA. She is more constrained by her firm in what she can do than I am as a solo practitioner, where really my only constraint is money (I like to joke that my travel committee is pretty easy to deal with . . .). And she has an associate who is a rising star as well, but the limits placed on their networking seems so short-sighted to me.

        And what Chuck said about 90% is showing up is true. Despite the fact that my practice is primarily administrative healthcare law in Texas, a very state-specific practice area, I hold and have held numerous positions in the ABA Health Law Section leadership . . . primarily because I show up and do something. And people know me – sometimes without me knowing exactly who they are – which is really a strange feeling for someone who is only three years out of law school. And while it hasn’t directly lead to business, yet, it has lead to phone calls from other healthcare attorney’s who know that I have a level of knowledge in my practice area that may be useful in answering their questions.

        But even with my apparent (an surprising to me!) skills in networking, even I don’t do it all right (just ask Chuck . . . I believe I owe his a lunch or two by now . . .). Especially the follow up – I can’t tell you how many times I say to myself, “I need to call so-and-so and see if he an meet for lunch” and then I promptly forget/ignore my own advice. Good post!

        • Marc, great advice. You realize half the battle is understanding you need to get out there and be part of the excitement. I think you need some type of reminder system where you can jot down your ideas and then be reminded to do it (like Siri if you have an iphone/ipad4) Great ideas when wasted are a shame.

      • I like to brag on my oldest daughter, and I am not ashamed of doing it. But, I believe she works for a firm that well understand the need to network. She works for a boutique firm that simply represents lenders in commercial real estate transactions. They brought her up to speed quickly, and then sent her out networking for the firm. I believe they did it because she is well suited for the task, but also because the older members of the firm know they cannot relate that well to the 20 and 30 something growing in ranks at their referral institutions. These people will be the leaders of these institutions in the next decade or so. I accuse her of being board certified in lunch. But, seriously, she spends a good amount of time doing workshops with lenders, taking bankers to lunch, and hosting small dinner parties. Now, tell me how many consumer-based lawyers do this? And, I am not talking about taking a bankrupt client to lunch. I am talking about pursuing those people who can, do, or who are capable of referring business to you. I have to admit that even I have over the years have had some degree of contempt for this practice, but she does not go to extravagant extremes. But, what it allows is an hour or so when you can sit and talk and discover (1) what motivates this referral source, and (2) to introducing yourself in a less pressured, and more personal way, to these people.

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