By Elise Holtzman
Whenever I talk to lawyers about networking, I notice that many of them are focused on “getting out there and meeting people,” handing out business cards and bringing in clients as quickly as possible. When I ask them about their internal networking efforts, though, I tend to get blank stares.
One of the most critical networking opportunities most lawyers overlook is internal networking – - in other words, developing meaningful business relationships with other attorneys in your firm. When you’re very focused on bringing in new clients, it may seem that networking outside the firm is critical, and that spending time getting to know a bunch of lawyers with whom you already work with is counterproductive. Nothing could be further from the truth.
[pullquote]When your partners or associates clearly know and understand what it is you have to offer clients, they will be able to articulate your value clearly to prospective clients they meet.[/pullquote]
Internal networking offers three distinct benefits:
Educate and Expand Your Referral Network.
When your partners or associates clearly know and understand what it is you have to offer clients, they will be able to articulate your value clearly to prospective clients they meet. You may frequently meet people who don’t have a need for the type of legal services you provide, but may be the perfect client for one of your colleagues down the hall. When you have more than a vague sense of what other lawyers in your firm do, your radar will be tuned to opportunities for the firm you would not have noticed otherwise. Similarly, lawyers who understand what you do will be able to say “well I don’t do that kind of work, but my colleague is an expert in that area. I’d love to make an introduction.”
It makes good business sense for you and your colleagues to refer work to one another, whether you share origination credit for the client, your compensation is tied to how much money the firm makes as a whole, or you make money based on an eat what you kill formula.
Become the Go-To Lawyer in Your Practice Area.
Another benefit of focusing your efforts on internal networking is that lawyers in other department will consider you the “go-to” person in the firm in your area of expertise. Even if there are others in your practice group who do similar work, friends you have developed in the firm are more likely to refer work to you and will “hire” you to work on matters for their own clients. It’s important to be able to bring business into the firm, but it’s also critical to be able to provide service to the firm’s clients, even if you are not the originating attorney.
When other lawyers in the firm consider you an indispensable member of their client service team, your value to the firm increases. Particularly if you are not yet bringing in significant business on your own, your ability to effectively represent existing clients of the firm is paramount. As you become a trusted resource, opportunities to leverage your experience with your clients into new clients for the firm will increase.
Raise Your Profile at the Firm.
When you go out of your way to get to know others, they get to know you, as well. The attorney who sits in his office, grinds out the work and infrequently connects with other people will not be considered an important person to know. Getting to know others and being involved in the life of the firm will ensure that you are top-of-mind when opportunities are being given out.
Whether it’s a chance to co-author an article, give a CLE seminar or keynote speech, chair a committee, work on a high profile matter, or join an attorney on a client pitch, your name will be one of the first that comes up. As others’ awareness of what you have to offer grows, opportunities to distinguish yourself will increase as well.
Here are two things you can do right now to kick-start your internal networking efforts:
Attend internal firm events.
Whether it’s an informal breakfast or lunch, a formal holiday party or any other excuse to rub elbows with your colleagues, make sure you are participating. It’s tempting to blow off meetings and events that don’t seem overly productive in the short term, especially when you have pile of work on your desk, but you are looking for a long-term payoff here, not just immediate results. If your firm doesn’t provide opportunities for the attorneys to hang out together, create the opportunities yourself. Your proactive efforts to generate value for the firm will start to establish you as a leader.
Get to know individual attorneys.
Identify an attorney in a different practice area of your firm and let her know that
you’d like to have the opportunity to meet for coffee so you can get to know a little bit more about what she does and how you may be able to be helpful. You might tell her, for example, that you know she’s a bankruptcy attorney but would like to know more about the types of clients she usually works with and what areas of bankruptcy she specializes in.
A great question to ask is “who would be an ideal client for you?” Be prepared to share similar information about yourself and follow up from time to time, as you would with any networking contact. Use the same approach with other attorneys in the firm and you will quickly develop a strong internal network.
Elise Holtzman, an attorney and certified executive coach, is the founder of The Lawyer’s Edge, a coaching and consulting firm whose mission is to help lawyers create extraordinary careers. She coaches, writes and speaks on the critical skills that aren’t taught in law school but are essential to career success and satisfaction. Elise is a former President of the International Coach Federation’s New Jersey chapter and also serves on the board of directors of the Columbia Law School Association. Visit Elise online at www.thelawyersedge.com or connect with her on LinkedIn.