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Increase your market share by networking.

Old-fashioned networking has a place in today's modern marketing plan.

From the time lawyers were first given legal permission to advertise, the nature of law firm marketing--particularly that of personal injury law firms--has changed drastically.

Lawyer advertising has progressed from the yellow pages to radio, television, billboards, and Web sites. To get their names before the public, personal injury lawyers are no longer limited to participating in service clubs such as the Kiwanis and Lions or to mounting ill-fated political campaigns for local office. As a consequences, some of the most basic business development activities have taken a backseat to the more novel, fascinating, and exciting high-tech ways of getting cases.

This article examines the merits of networking as a way to increase market share and discusses how a personal injury lawyer should develop a network of contacts and the ways in which an existing network is best nurtured.

Attending a cocktail party is not necessarily networking. Networking is not a contest to see who can collect the most business cards or shake the most hands, and it is not a one-sided activity.

Effective networking is about relationships, that are created and nurtured so the result is a mutually beneficial exchange of support in the form of business generation and development.

Your attitude will determine how effective you will be as a networking lawyer. Never lose sight of the fact that small-office practitioners are salespeople. This is not crassness but stark reality. With no cases to prosecute, the greatest legal skills and talents will go wanting for application.

This realistic philosophy of law firm marketing has been denigrated, often by large, well-established corporate firms that can afford to rest on the fruits of the good business development efforts and networking skills of their founders. Influenced by these attitudes, many lawyers have failed to educate themselves in sales and marketing practices and procedures.

You must know how to sell, and, if you do know how, you must learn. One of the most effective ways to learn is to watch more mainstream salespeople go about their business. If you have friends or acquaintances involved in traditional sales positions, spend time with them and observe what they do to get business.

See how they are always on the alert for a business lead and how they follow up on that lead at the first opportunity. Pay attention to how they are on the lookout for an opportunity to send business to someone in their network. Watch how they nurture their network by way of breakfast, lunch, and dinner meetings.

See how they regularly use the telephone to keep in touch with members of their network. Notice how adept they are at describing what they do and how they can be of service to potential customers. Allowing for personality differences, watch the enthusiasm with which they greet others and life in general. If you have never taken a sales training course, these insights are invaluable.

If you do not have friends or acquaintances who are salespeople, consider joining an organized networking group, such as LeTip International or Business Networking International. With these groups, you will have close weekly contact with salespeople who need to make sales for a living. They can teach you a lot.

Creating your network

You probably will not have to build a network form the ground up since you most likely already have the foundation of a network. This is true even if you have just graduated from law school and are about to start your own practice. The people you went to law school with constitute the foundation.

First, take an inventory of people you know or have some connection to. Think in terms of categories of contacts. For example, list all contacts in the following categories: personal; work; educational; and personal and professional service providers, such as your dentist, physicians, and accountants.

You can compile these lists by looking at your current and old address books, Rolodex file, business card file, holiday card list, college and law school alumni directories, current client list, referring lawyer list, membership lists of groups you belong to, and (for those fortunate enough to be so organized) your computer database of contacts.

Nurturing you network

Once you establish your network, the focus shifts to the question of how to use your contacts to generate business. First, evaluate the strength of your contacts and your personality--your likes, dislikes, skills, and shortcomings.

The strength of your contacts and your personal strengths will determine which opportunities have a high chance of success and which are long shots. For example, one contact may be a publicity agent who could book you for a speaking engagements before charitable organizations in you community. However, if you are terrified of public speaking and are not willing or able to overcome that, this opportunity is probably not your best chance at developing business, your strong contact notwithstanding.

This is not to say that you should not devote a certain amount of your business development time to some long shots, since they may have value in their own right. They will at least provide practice in areas in which you can use improvement. Moreover, any increased activity involving the legal community and the community at large will enhance your reputation and provide a greater measure of name recognition, all of which is good for business.

Regardless, of how many people are in your network, you cannot make someone else solicit business for you. You cannot force someone to refer you a case of put you in contact with clients or potential clients. No amount of wanting will make a bit of difference. While, as a salesperson, you can and should ask for business, the only thing you have any real real control over is what you do for the other people in your network.

You do, for example, have control of how many real estate closings you refer to the lawyer down the hall. You do have control over whether you introduce your real estate lawyer friend to your mortgage broker neighbor. And you do control how much time and effort you spend helping members of your network. This is the "give" portion of the give-and-take nature of a networking relationship.

You will be able to engage in this giving only if you really know the other members of your network. You will get to know them through regular and frequent contact and by learning how to get other people to talk about themselves. As a by-product, in the normal flow of conversation, others will most likely give you the opportunity to talk about yourself.

Think for a moment of the personal relationships in your life, and reflect on how those relationships have been enriched. To what extent did that enrichment result from the confidence that you could look to the other person to satisfy some or all of your needs? Did it develop from a mutual caring about one another and the willingness to look out for the best interests of the other person? These are the same qualities that enhance and nurture a professional networking relationship.

One of two things will happen if you regularly help others get business. Either they will make no effort to reciprocate, in which event you will alter your thinking toward them. Or they will at least make an effort to reciprocate. These efforts will be obvious to you whether or not they ultimately result in business, which is, given continued sincere efforts, likely to happen.

It is important to refer to other lawyers those clients seeking legal help in areas outside your field of specialization. This accomplishes two valuable networking objectives. You build a broad network of clients for whom you have helped secure legal representation, and you nurture your network of lawyers in other fields. You must be careful in choosing the lawyers to whom you refer clients since any poor quality legal work will reflect on you.

Develop a system to ensure that you make sufficiently frequent contact with members of your network. Whether you use a computerized or a manual system, avoid falling into the natural habit of contacting the same people over and over again and neglecting others.

Show your appreciation. Everyone likes to be appreciated, and this applies to your business and professional as well as your personal contacts. If you are not already doing so, send letters to every referring lawyer and every other person who recommends someone to your office. You are most likely doing this when you accept cases, but you should also do it if you are forced to reject a case. People want their good deeds to be appreciated.

During the December holiday season, it is customary to give gifts to people who have referred you business. Consider forgoing the holiday gift since everyone else will be sending one, too, leaving your fruit basket with little impact. Instead, send gifts in the summer when they will be noticed.

You may also express your appreciation in ways other than gifts, such as speaking before an organization in which the other person is involved or contributing money to his or her favorite charity.

Engage in self-promotion. Learn to talk about yourself effectively and descriptively. Formulate a "what I do" statement. You may not have much time to tell someone you have just met what you do and how you can be of service.

Develop two statements, one for lawyers and one for nonlawyers. "Personal injury lawyer" may have meaning to other lawyers, but to a layperson you may want to say you represent consumers who have been injured by products they bought or services they used. You may want to say you represent workers who have been discriminated against.

This statement should not be drafted in a cavalier fashion. You need to write it and rewrite it until it flows in one concise sentence, so you can deliver it in the real-life situations that call for its use.

It does no good to tell someone you have just met that you are a lawyer. This fails to convey the specific nature of the valuable service you provide as the representative of injured consumers, and it brings to mind the negative images a portion of the public already has about lawyers in general.

It is important to be remembered by those you wish to do business with. Look at your stationery, business cards, and whatever else you disseminate to members of your network. If your business card looks like everyone else's, you are wasting an opportunity to stand out from the crowd. If in good taste (and it does not have to be boring to be tasteful), a logo may provide a recognition factor that will distinguish you from every other lawyer whose card a potential client has received.

There are rules of conduct in business settings that are important to learn to maximize your networking results. Some of them are self-evident but important nonetheless. At events designed for networking, give others your business card and ask for theirs. As soon as possible after an event, note on the back of each business card something about that person so you will remember him or her.

Do not wait to be introduced by someone else or to be asked for your name. Take the initiative. If you are standing with one or more people when a new person approaches, take the lead in introducing everyone to each other. Meet as many people as possible. Do not linger too long with any one person.

At conferences and conventions, in addition to attending sessions on topics that interest you, decide in advance which speakers and participants you would like to meet. Tell a speaker how much you enjoyed his or her talk (if that is the case) because no matter how many times he or she has spoken, a compliment is appreciated and may be remembered.

Social events at conventions provide a more relaxed setting in which to meet people. Take advantage of these opportunities, recognizing that "social" does not mean nonbusiness related.

Here's a short list of tips to remember--

* Network at all times.

* Remember that networking is a learned skill.

* Always let potential clients or sources of clients get to know you and what you do.

* Stay in touch with people regularly, even if there is no immediate benefit.

* Sit next to strangers at events instead of people you have already met.

* Be helpful to others.

* Seek leadership positions.

* Always ask for business.

* Be friendly.

* Be positive.

* Practice the basic rules of business and social etiquette.

* Develop a thick skin; be impervious to rejection.

* Do not let the less qualified--but more outgoing--competition get ahead.

* Never give up.

* Remember, if you are not networking, you are not working.

Neil F. Schreffler is a partner with Schreffler & Gitlin in New York City.
COPYRIGHT 1998 American Association for Justice
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Schreffler, Neil F.
Publication:Trial
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 1998
Words:2142
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