Lawyers have a reputation for being aggressively confident; but, that notion has mostly been buttressed by television and movie depictions of trial attorneys. (Maybe I’m just playing devil’s advocate here, though.) Most of the attorneys that I’ve met would not meet the public perception; many are passive, and shy. This is one of the reasons that lawyers tend to congregate with other lawyers. In addition to the above-described, and mostly unsuspected, personality quirk, they feel a shared bond over the public humiliation that is law school, and the unrelenting weight that is the job search following law school. Attorneys love to be comfortable, as most of us do; and, hanging with other attorneys, especially when you’re starting out, is a great way to find mentors, and to further your professional development. However, by itself (which is where many lawyers leave it), it’s not a winning marketing strategy.
Surely, it’s better to diversify your marketing approaches. Just as you can’t rely solely upon social media marketing, neither can you rely solely on networking, especially networking with other attorneys. This is not to say that you shouldn’t join bar associations; you should. Neither is this to say that you can’t get referrals from other attorneys; you can. You can develop cross-referral pipelines with lawyers in other practices, where their clients’ needs often expand to entail your own service areas; this is one reason why it’s so important to develop a practice niche: because if you can narrowly define your practice areas, other attorneys can make very specific referrals. You can even acquire referrals from attorneys who practice in the same areas that you do, if you operate within defined sub-niches, or seek clients with differing demographics (white collar versus blue collar, e.g.); but, then it’s important to understand who your target clients are, and to refine down your elevator pitch. Regardless, though, of how well you are able to show yourself to your colleagues, there is always the specter that: (1) the other lawyer keeps the case herself (especially the lucrative one); or, (2) the other lawyer refers the case to someone who is not you. That second qualifier will be entrenched in any referral relationship. You will almost always have some level of competition: someone who is doing work similar to yours; and, they’ll always be threats to jack referrals. But, if you engage referral arrangements with other professionals, you can eliminate the first threat. And, how many more referrals will you acquire then?
Despite the massive importance of developing good word of mouth and effective referral pipelines, most attorneys still don’t make a clear differentiation between professional development and marketing — sometimes they converge; but, mostly they diverge, into different conversations. Perhaps another factor arguing against the lawyer’s networking with affiliated professionals is that there is more work that goes into developing those relationships. In order to forge a bond with someone with whom you don’t share a work type, you need to be able to interact on a strictly human level; but, many lawyers work so hard, and are so immersed in their practices, that their personalities become stilted: they don’t do enough other things to be consistently interesting. This is probably the chief reason that lawyers love to talk to other lawyers: they speak the same arcane language. So, when you attempt to develop referral sources among other professionals, you have to be able to communicate with them on that human level, yes; but, you also need to be able to communicate what you do in layperson’s terms, without losing your audience in the process. This will be an easier sell if you’re engaging affiliated professionals (people who work on similar matters, or parts of larger matters, like yours), but it’s still not the same conversation you would have with a colleague. This all assumes, of course, that you can meet the right people to pitch to. So, you have to do some calculating: What professionals will refer you cases? Where do they congregate, and how can you infiltrate their congregations? Lawyers looking for real estate closings want to get tied into real estate agents, mortgage brokers and banking personnel. They’ll rent space within real estate agencies. They’ll join local real estate professionals’ groups. They become active in the local Chamber of Commerce or Rotary Club, and work those targeted individuals within that membership environment. There is a similar construct for every practice area. You just have to figure out what it is for yours.
Think beyond the criminal attorney who joins the Criminal Law Section of his bar association, and leaves it at that. Remember that there is an entire world of ancillary professionals working around you, and that it is your job to create a desirable nexus with those folks. If you want to expand your practice, eventually you have to expand your network. The initial investment is worth the long-range payoff. On a broader level, the more marketing channels you develop, the more people you will reach (in their preferred spaces for interaction), the more referral pipelines you will hit upon.
Many professionals end up trapped in small worlds, without ever removing themselves from that comfort zone, in order to see what other business opportunities may exist for them. Take advantage of their repose by your kinesis.
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I should also note, for the record, that: I’m decidedly Team Tae.