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One aspect of being an attorney that is often overlooked is networking. As a solo practitioner myself, networking has become a key aspect of my job because it allows me to consistently grow my practice and obtain more, valuable leads for clients. In my experience, I’ve found that when someone comes to me as a potential client because someone referred them to me, they are much more likely to hire me than someone who found my name in the yellow pages. That’s why I have devoted more time to networking and less time and money in traditional advertising. Here’s a few tips on how to get started and grow your networking circle.

1. Learn to tell people what you do, rather than what you are.

Unfortunately, in our society, the words “lawyer” and “attorney” tend to turn people off as soon as they hear them. They hear you are a lawyer and they shut down and don’t want to hear any more. But as you and I know, lawyers bring value to people’s lives, help people, and, frankly, are necessary. If you want people to learn about you, build a relationship with you, and ultimately refer you, don’t use “lawyer” or “attorney” when you first introduce yourself. Begin your introduction by explaining what you do. For example, “I help individuals transition through divorce and custody cases,” or “I help businesses ensure they are compliant with the laws in their industry.” Obviously, you will eventually discuss the fact that you are a lawyer, but start with a description of the value you provide.

2. Be willing to help other people.

When you are networking, you should expect sometimes that you help someone who is not particularly in a position to help you. Be the bigger person and help. As you should know, because of ethical rules, there are going to be plenty of times that someone helps you and you can’t return the favor. Take some time and build relationships and trust that ultimately, those relationships, rather than individual referrals, will help grow your law firm over time.

3. Schedule networking into your calendar.

Most of us have crazy schedules to begin with but we all know those times when life just seems to get even busier. Keep networking during those times. It’s a cycle: you have extremely busy times and then you have slow times. If you make the effort to continue networking through the busy times, it will help reduce the slow times because you are consistently getting your name, face, and reputation out there to the community.

4. Know that networking doesn’t have be done through a formal group.

A lot of people get turned off by the term “networking.” Networking doesn’t mean you have to pay a fee and meet with the same group every week or once a month. Networking means building relationships and maintaining them. If you know colleagues that you trust and use as a resource for yourself, take them to lunch or meet for happy hour to talk more about what each of you do. Do you volunteer with local organizations? Take a few minutes to talk to your fellow volunteers about the work you do and how you help people. Formal networking works for some people but many people prefer more informal environments. The key is to continue building the relationships you have and forming new relationships with those in your community.

5. Ask questions.

Networking can be intimidating. It’s hard to meet new people, particularly if you don’t have an introduction from someone else. In a large networking social atmosphere, you will be introducing yourself to people throughout the event. Remember that people like to talk about themselves so when you begin your conversation, ask questions about the other person, their job, their interests, etc. You may quickly find mutual ground that you can connect on or you may find that this person isn’t a great fit for you to build a relationship with. Either way, that is okay. You will meet a lot of people and you certainly won’t get along with everyone you meet. When you determine someone is not a great fit, you can politely excuse yourself and move along. When you determine someone is a great fit, think about suggesting a time that the two of you could meet to talk one-on-one to learn more about each other.

Networking may feel hard at first but it will help you build your business organically. Don’t be shy to introduce yourself to others at networking events (that is why they are there after all). If you find yourself standing alone, simply approach a group and ask “Do you mind if I join you?” I have never had someone say no to that question.

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