March 1, 2018
Your Network is Your Greatest Asset
Liza Vasquez ICF and Jeffrey F. Silber CPA MBA
Certified Master Business and Life Coaches
What is Your Network?
Let’s start with what your Network is. As a lawyer, your first thought might be that your Network is your list of current clients and a few other professionals you know. These people are certainly an important part of your web of contacts, but they are by no means the only ones.
These other people are all part of your Network as well: other lawyers you have worked with or even who have been opposing counsel; lawyers you may have met at local or international conferences or Bar Association meetings; former clients; the accountants you work with; your banker, any marketing consultants you may have worked with; your insurance broker; community leaders you know; people you have met at your place of religious worship or at a yoga class or at the gym where you exercise; friends from school (from kindergarten up through your masters’ degree); the other members of your condominium or homeowners association; people you have met at chambers of commerce meetings or at other industry associations gatherings; your dentist and doctor; the parents of your children’s classmates; the parents of the children on a team that you coach such as a little league team, a hockey team or a soccer team; members of any clubs your belong to such as a sports/social club, a bicycle, hiking or dancing club; your fellow classmates in any course you might be taking such a cooking or wine appreciation class; classmates who are also taking a course with you to keep their legal knowledge up to date; and even your family members. We are sure that you could even add a few more categories of people who are in your Network.
Did you realize your Network was so large? When you think about it, you have an army of people you may be able to call on for help and support when you need it – providing you take care to build your Network in the proper way. You should reflect on how extensive are your contacts and be proud to realize that you know so many amazing people, so many phenomenal people, who you can turn to when you need help provided you care about them and do not think they are there to serve you. We will explain what we mean by this.
The Value and Importance of Your Network
Has it occurred to you that legal services cannot be sold? No, they cannot! Legal services can only be purchased. This is an important distinction and will influence how you view your Network. For example, if you practice family law, can you sell divorce services to a happily married couple or to a single person? No, of course not; there is no argument whatsoever for these people to hire you not even at a 50% discount in your fees. Simply put, they have no need of your services.
Only the people who have a genuine need for your practice area will purchase your services when that need arises in their personal or professional lives.
Is it clear that Legal Services cannot be sold, only purchased? This is a significant concept to accept when you are thinking about your Network. But now are you thinking: What is the value of my Network if I cannot sell them anything?
The value of your Network is that the more people who know you and what you do, the greater are the chances that they will either use your services when they have the need, or they will refer friends and colleagues to you who need someone with your expertise.
As in our example, if you are a divorce lawyer, it will be important that as many happily married people and as many single people as possible are among your contacts because they all have friends who might need a referral to a family law attorney at one time or another; or one day their own situations might change, and they too will need you
But There is a Catch
They will only purchase your services (or refer someone to you) if they remember you. The key for the successful use of your Network is that you must remain “Top of Mind” so that there is almost no possibility they would think of any lawyer other than you when your type of expertise is required.
How to Use and Strengthen Your Network and Stay “Top of Mind”
Of course, you will always want your Network to be expanding. However, you can see that you already have an extensive cadre of contacts. The question is how to get these people to keep you in the forefront of their minds. The key is by developing and maintaining a Personal Connection with your contacts. From what you learn about this person, be prepared to find ways to help them and make connections for them.
In fact, what you would like to get out of you Network is only the byproduct of being a decent human being. Do you remember how in cartoons, a hunter might picture a steaming hot rabbit dinner when looking at Bugs Bunny? Do not look at the people in your Network like that. Picture them as human beings with whom you would like to be friendly. If you push too hard and are too aggressive in trying to squeeze your Network for their legal work and referrals, you will appear desperate, needy and that that you only want to exploit them for your own benefit. You will succeed only in driving these people away from you.
The results you want will certainly come from building a strong Network, but only after you have done the work of building and strengthening the Network as one human being relating to another.
And take it slowly. Relationships take time to grow just like the roots of a tree. It is the Human Contact that will nurture these relationships. If you want these relationships to be beneficial, you must allow time for them to grow.
A last word about the time-honored tradition of exchanging business cards at a Networking event. This is a useless activity by itself if you have not developed at least a minimum relationship with the other person. No one choose a lawyer based on a business card alone. Only exchange business cards after you have developed some rapport with a new contact. Even then, do not give your business card until the other person asks for it. Otherwise you will look desperate and no one wants a desperate lawyer.
You may have a stereotype image of Networking as going to events and exchanging business cards with like-minded professionals in search of more business opportunities. That is only a very small part of what true Networking is all about. In fact, most lawyers who engage in that sort of Networking are going about it all wrong. If you who have taken our program, Legal Marketing from the Inside Out, you know that real Networking is about building genuine relationships.
There is no substitute for a good personal connection. That’s true whether you are already a strong rainmaker looking for more clients; or you are an up-and-coming young lawyer who wants to develop your own meaningful book of business; or even if you are a currently employed lawyer who may want a better position in the future.
Your Network should be filled with people who know you personally and are able to give you their legal work; or send you referrals; or connect you with opportunities that might not have been available to you otherwise.
However, they will only help you if they have a good feeling about you. Everyone in your Network should be someone who would be happy to share a meal with you or take the time to chat with you over a coffee.
Start by Being Human
Lawyers often have the reputation of being pompous, arrogant, self-impressed know-it-all’s who like to have the last word even in unimportant conversations; and who like to show the person in front of them that they have a story that somehow puts them (the lawyer) in a superior position.
Contact Person: “I like to cook.”
Lawyer: “Me too and I studied at the Cordon Bleu in Paris for a year.”
Contact Person: “I’m taking my kids skiing for the first time this winter.”
Lawyer: “My parents started taking me skiing in Switzerland when I was five years old.”
Contact Person: “When I travel, I like to go to museums to see exhibitions of 20th Century French impressionist art.”
Lawyer: “I have several original Picasso paintings in my personal collection.”
This kind of interaction will win you exactly zero new friends and will antagonize the people you had hoped to add to your Network.
Genuine Networking is about creating a good feeling so that other people will be motivated to do something good for you in return. If you want the people you know to give you referrals, introductions, their own legal work or for them to open new opportunities for you, you must be prepared to give before you get. This begins with making them feel important not by showing them how important (or self-impressed) you are.
In your Network, there is no such thing as small talk. Every scrap of information (both personal and professional) you learn about the other person will be the basis of future contacts to build and strengthen these relationships. In your interaction with new contacts, try to follow our 80/20 rule. That is, you should be speaking only 20% of the time and the other person 80% of the time. And your 20% of the conversation should be mostly questions about them.
Our conclusion about Networking is that it is clearly not about promoting yourself as a lawyer. You must first be a genuine human being. We like to say, First, be friends (or at least be friendly) and the work will follow. When people connect with you and they like you, they will refer clients to you or they will send you their own legal work. Networking is about you as an authentic person, not you as a lawyer. When this point becomes part of who you are, you can see and understand your Network in a new light.
Go back and look at the list above of all the people who are in your Network. You will see that regardless of what they do for a living, they all have one thing in common: they are all human beings concerned with their families, their health, their careers, they have passions and fears, likes and dislikes, hobbies and things they like to do when they are not working. They have their humanity in common.
There you see the basis for being “Top of Mind.” You must be a genuine human being to other people who are also human beings. People will shut you down during a Networking event if you try to give them a sales pitch about you and your law firm. The most effective marketing tool is to get to know your new contacts as people, as individuals. People will remember you for how you make them feel not from a pre-programed sales pitch.
Your Network is Your Greatest Asset, nurture it like a delicate orchid. Good luck with building your network.