As the former president of the Outagamie County Bar Association and the current vice president of the Brown County Bar Association, I was asked to share some of the experiences these leadership positions have brought me.
I can say without a doubt that they have transformed my practice and led to many business opportunities that I would have never imagined. Although networking was not the reason I agreed to participate in these leadership roles, I can confirm that they present great opportunities and that young lawyers, in particular, should make greater use of them.
I hear from many young lawyers who say they struggle with networking and are under pressure to build their own practices. Some of them simply hate to think about these tasks, while others wonder what is the best way to go about building a network of colleagues and possible clients. This all comes at a time when more and more employers are expecting young lawyers to develop their own book of business.
For young lawyers, the local bar association offers a place where they can become comfortable with networking with relative ease. That familiarity will serve them well in other social situations.
Participating in any organization requires having a good attitude. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review described the difference between introverts and extroverts by placing the motivational factors for networking into two categories: “promotion” and “prevention.”
According to the description, people in the promotion category think of the advancement and accomplishments that networking can bring, prompting them to look forward to networking. People in the prevention category, in contrast, feel obligated to take part in networking for professional reasons, which can cause them to want to keep their distance.
To get the most from your local bar association, you need to look at it as an opportunity for “promotion” rather than something that you have to do. Try to remind yourself that other members have the same stresses and understand the problems that you face from day to day. In general we all have busy schedules, demanding clients, tough adversaries and difficulty trying to find time for life outside our practice. We probably have all either used these stresses as an excuse to skip events or have attended events with a bad attitude and a closed mind. But if you make a conscious effort to attend local bar events, and to show up with enthusiasm, you will almost certainly find that they can become something that you look forward to attending. They will also become more beneficial to your practice.
Having a good attitude often results in having more business. A recent study of 165 lawyers from a large North American law firm concluded that lawyers who found the thought of networking distasteful had fewer billable hours than their peers. Several other studies have found that professionals who network with enthusiasm have consistently been more successful in their professions than those who would rather keep their distance.
Once you commit to attending events, and to doing so eagerly, you will be able to develop relationships that will help you build your network of referrals and clients. As an example, it seems that more and more lawyers are moving away from general practice in favor of specializing in a couple areas of law. This means there are great opportunities to meet colleagues who need someone they trust to represent their clients in matters they do not handle.
Some of my best contacts are attorneys that I have met through local bar associations. Many times, I simply would not have come across these practitioners were it not for my involvement in local bar associations.
We all want to feel secure in referring clients to somebody we trust and know will do a good job. That trust can really only be developed by meeting people face to face and discussing common goals. Social events held by your local bar association provide opportunities to meet colleagues in a relaxed setting, one that sets the tone for collaboration. This is a better environment than asking someone to lunch with the goal of simply getting their business. In general, that sort of meeting often works better as a way to follow up once a relationship has already been established.
I have found that leadership positions in particular are a great way to solidify networks. These positions allow you to demonstrate that you get things done and can be trusted to complete tasks on time. Working with other leaders also fosters a community of interest and creates situations that allow you to collaborate and solve problems together.
There are of course many altruistic reasons to involve yourself with leadership positions at your local bar associations. But these organizations are also simply a great way to develop and expand your network of referrals. If nothing else, you may meet some great people that you will eventually call friends.