Before his second child was born, attorney Jonathan P. Groth used to shoot a round of golf every Thursday morning.
He appreciated the cruel lessons learned on the links. But what he valued even more was the opportunity to converse and forge professional relationships outside of the office at the country club where his first employer was a member.
“The lead attorney was extremely social and I got to understand that a lot of his success came because of the type of person he was,” Groth said. “Everybody wanted to play a round with him.”
As an associate fresh out of law school, Groth realized early on the benefit of being “business social” as a way to build his practice.
Now, after recently going on his own after 10 years in the profession, the personal injury lawyer tries to impress upon new graduates the importance of breaking out of the law school shell, especially in a highly competitive market.
“I think that it’s difficult because this aspect of practice is so underemphasized in law school,” said 2009 graduate Laurna A. Jozwiak. “It can be intimidating because you have to master these legal concepts and at the same time sell yourself to the general community.”
When she graduated, Jozwiak admitted that she didn’t even think about where or how to put herself in social settings to chat up potential clients.
But after a year working at a small firm in Milwaukee with a veteran attorney, she quickly gained an appreciation for building relationships through casual conversation.
In August, Jozwiak joined Fox, O’Neill & Shannon SC. She primarily practices family law, so she often seeks out opportunities that tie into her practice.
“I keep a lookout for where potential clients are meeting and gathering,” she said. “If someone is throwing an anniversary party, that can be a good event to attend.”
While CLE programs and professional organizations are invaluable resources for picking the brains of fellow attorneys, legal marketing consultant Elizabeth Ferris said it is essential for young lawyers to be socially adept at a time when jobs are scarce.
In her experience, she said socially aggressive and creative lawyers often have the most job security.
“One way to secure your role in a law firm is to be able to generate clients,” Ferris said. “The ones bringing in business are not being let go.”
Not all attorneys are social butterflies, but Ferris said even the introverts should identify and play to their social strengths.
She said targeting a client base that ties into a personal area of interest for an attorney will make it easier to develop authentic relationships and lead to new clients.
For Laufenberg, Stombaugh & Jassak SC lawyer Joseph F. LaDien, that involves being a member of the Alumni Board at his high school alma mater, Marquette University High School.
His involvement has connected him to a variety of professionals who have a common interest and ultimately generated business for the firm.
“I’m starting to get to the point of bringing in clients through these ventures,” said LaDien, who graduated in 2008.
Jozwiak doesn’t expect an immediate return on her efforts; rather it’s a way to cultivate long-term relationships with people that could someday need her services.
“The more names and faces I can recognize and people that can recognize me and my practice, I look at that as more of an investment that will end up paying off in the future,” she said.
Jack Zemlicka can be reached at [email protected].