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LAWBIZ COACHES CORNER: Networking — the ripple effect

Ed Poll is a speaker, author and board-approved coach to the legal profession. He can be contacted at edpoll@lawbiz.com. Also visit his interactive community for lawyers at www.LawBizForum.com.

Like the ripples that spread out wider and wider in a pool of water when you throw a pebble into it, your circle of networking contacts can also spread out, encompassing each other and expanding greatly on that original circle.

The fact is that every law firm already has built concentric networking circles that can be expanded to serve as business development connections. The first of these circles includes your friends and family, and the widening circles beyond that core include the following:

  • Current clients, particularly those who can refer you to new contacts.
  • Past clients who may have developed new needs since you last worked with them.
  • Former classmates in high school, undergraduate school, or law school.
  • Former colleagues at other law firms and other organizations where you may have worked.
  • Industry partners or other professional services providers.
  • Fellow members of boards of directors and other leadership groups.
  • Contacts made at bar association events, community activities and industry groups.

These contacts create two types of networks. In your community network, you interact with individuals who may not see you as a professional services provider but who nonetheless represent potential clients. Think of participants in cultural events that you enjoy, alumni association contacts, and the members of an industry group in which you participate.

By contrast, your professional network includes professional referral sources who may not become clients themselves but who can refer you to their own clients. These referral sources include brokers, bankers, CPAs, consultants, financial planners and other lawyers.

For the law practice to benefit from existing contacts, all lawyers should think about who they know, where they know these people from, what their industries or particular areas of expertise are, and other particular knowledge they may have about the person because of previous involvement.

Create a database of people you know personally, what their current positions are, and what needs you might be able to help fill for them. If you can provide them with something that would be of value to them, they will be more attuned to you and will send you business when they can.

That’s the essence of networking.

You want to bring to these networks the same organization and focus that you would to an investment portfolio, categorizing individuals by geographic location, by professional specialty, by activity, by personal interest. Then begin networking — the practical process of systematically expanding business development relationships — by meeting and talking with them. In addition, and very importantly, keep looking for ways to expand your work by seeking out and meeting people who can add value to your network and vice versa.

Expanding a network is akin to a contact sport. Done most effectively, it involves attending bar association meetings, community and industry programs, professional network meetings, and other organization events that provide a forum for one-on-one interaction. There are numerous professional groups that enable professionals such as lawyers, accountants, insurance brokers, and others to mingle and interact with one another. These are the trusted advisers of the world who can help one another, refer clients to one another, and work as a team to benefit their respective clients. It could even be as simple as taking a few key contacts to lunch or to an evening at the theater.

Just remember, though, that networking is more than simply shaking someone’s hand or making a person feel good. It’s getting to know people and building a personal relationship. You simply have to work within your own comfort zone and remain true to your values to establish good relationships, and the rest takes care of itself.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lawyer, a pickle maker, or a widget manufacturer — it all works the same way.

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