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By: Daniel F. Blanchard, III
Rosen, Rosen & Hagood, LLC
Charleston, SC

Successful lawyers realize that networking and marketing are vital to achieving success in today’s increasingly competitive marketplace, but how does a young lawyer do so effectively? Here are a few helpful tips for maximizing your networking efforts.

First, it’s helpful to have a proper understanding about what networking is and is not. Effective networking involves more than showing up at an event, shaking a few hands, and dishing out business cards. Successful networking is about creating and nurturing relationships, not a sales pitch. The goal is to build a network of people for the purpose of mutual assistance. Effective networking includes sharing information and advice, listening for ways to be of assistance to others, and showing genuine interest in others. It’s about helping other people and not looking for what you can take.

It’s important to realize that networking is a long term process, and not usually one with immediate rewards. While keeping in mind that the key is to develop long term relationships, evaluate your own practice to determine what kinds of work you wish to accept and identify potential referral sources. The best referral sources will have significant and repetitive contact with individuals who need your type of legal services.

Understand that the foremost way to network effectively is to do excellent legal work for your existing clients. Satisfied clients are willing to make referrals. Once you’ve successfully completed a matter for a client, send the client a thank you letter and include a request for future referrals. Remind the client of the array of legal services that you and your firm have to offer. Although you may have resolved a personal injury claim for the former client, others in your firm may handle estate planning, real estate transactions, or business formations. Once the client’s case is completed, make it a point to keep in touch with him or her through occasional e-mails, birthday cards, or holiday cards. When you receive a referral from a current or former client, send the referring client a letter of appreciation even if you do not accept the potential client’s matter.

More than clients and potential clients, other attorneys can be excellent referral sources, because many attorneys refer work to other attorneys if the case involves a specialized field of the law or if there is a conflict of interest. To be in a position to receive such referrals, you should develop an expertise in one or more areas of legal work and become recognized by other attorneys as being especially skilled in those areas. Make sure to inform attorneys who may be referral sources that you have such expertise and that you are interested in accepting referrals in these areas. You should get to know attorneys likely to be in a position to refer such matters by writing articles for local bar journals, speaking at CLE programs, and maintaining an active role in local bar committees and associations.

Build and nurture professional relationships by spending personal time with people. Organize an event such as a firm happy hour, luncheon, golf outing, or wine tasting and invite some of your colleagues, former classmates, or friends from law school. Make sure to stay in touch on a regular basis throughout the year. Your former classmates may eventually be the persons with authority to refer out legal work. Of course, send a letter of appreciation to any colleague who sends you a potential client and let them know that you will return the favor whenever the opportunity arises.

Be creative and expand your networking opportunities to non-lawyers. Join clubs or other professional, trade, social, civic, or religious organizations while selecting activities that you know your clients, prospective clients, and referral sources will attend. One option is to consider serving on a committee or board for a non-profit organization to which your clients or prospects belong. It’s important that you not only join such a group or club, but that you also take a leadership role. You will be recognized by maintaining an active profile in a leadership position or on influential boards or committees. It’s essential that you do a superior job on any committee, board, or project assigned. This will provide an excellent opportunity to get to know and impress those third parties who may be potential referral sources. It can also lead to opportunities to write articles for professional newsletters or publications and to speak before professional organizations on timely subjects in which you have expertise.

When attending a networking event, seize the opportunity to meet many different people. Develop a succinct personal introduction or “elevator speech” that you can share with others. It tells them who you are and what you can do for others. Try to differentiate yourself and your firm by showcasing your uniqueness or how you are different from the competition. Let the other person know that you are enthusiastic about what you do. Avoid being a business card collector who is more interested in handing out his or her cards to everyone in the room, but fails to establish any meaningful relationships. The objective is to have meaningful conversations with the new contacts you meet.

Make an effort to stay in occasional contact with any new connection you meet. You want your name to pop into their mind whenever he or she needs an attorney. Send the connection a hand-written thank you note immediately after the first contact. Make sure it is individualized and not too generic. It’s sometimes helpful to make notes on the back of a business card that you’ve received about what the person needs help with or what his or her interests are. Then try to watch for things that matter to that person. Preferably within a few weeks after your initial meeting, send the contact an article about some topic that you discussed or congratulate them for some personal milestone like a promotion, new job, or award received. Your gesture should reflect a sincere interest in that person, not merely as a source of business. Continue to stay in touch with the contact by periodically inviting him or her to lunch, firm seminars, or other events and sending e-mails from time to time about items of interest.

It’s unnecessary to spend lots of money to develop a network of referral sources. However, it does take time, effort, and patience. Networking is a process of building relationships. It may take years before your efforts begin to bear fruit, but effective networking will build quality relationships that yield referrals. Good luck!

Daniel F. Blanchard, III, is a shareholder with Rosen, Rosen & Hagood, LLC in Charleston, South Carolina, where he practices in the areas of business litigation, employment, probate and trust litigation, transportation, and personal injury.

For more information about Rosen Hagood, please visit the International Society of Primerus Law Firms.

January 2011