Effective networking requires being helpful to others, but some lawyers go too far. They are so generous and are so committed to helping others that they don’t take steps that would help them attract more clients for themselves. Here are five real-life examples of that suggest that a lawyer crossed the line from generosity to martyrdom.
- At a network event, the lawyer is thanked for providing a referral to another lawyer. And the person providing the thank you publicly comments that the other lawyer’s rates are too low and that they should increase them.
- A lawyer provides close to a dozen introductions to a potential referral source and never even requests a meeting with that source. In fact, the lawyer provided so many introductions that the person receiving them starts to wonder why.
- A lawyer who knows that they are under a lot of financial pressure and isn’t nearly as busy as they want to be refuses to ask other lawyers for referrals.
- A lawyer hosts a networking event and does an admirable job making sure attendees get the chance to talk about themselves in front of the group. The only person who doesn’t discuss their work or explain what clients they would like to attract is the lawyer who organizes the meeting.
- A lawyer who wants to increase referrals from accountants only discusses personal matters and never talks about business when she meets CPAs. She doesn’t ask them questions about their work because she prefers to learn more about them as people. She continues with the approach despite rarely receiving referrals from the CPAs she meets.
In my experience as a business coach to lawyers, I have learned that networking martyrdom is often based on one personality trait and one fallacy. The character trait is lack of self-confidence. And that lack of self-confidence doesn’t relate to legal ability. In fact, the lawyer described above justifiably believes they are better lawyers than many of the colleagues who are busier than they are.
The lack of self-confidence tends to relate to their ability to communicate. For example, they may say to themselves that they aren’t good about talking about themselves. Likewise, they may comment that they don’t do well in large group sessions.
The common fallacy, especially for those that are too generous with their time and expertise, is that, if they are sufficiently generous, that by itself will be eventually noticed, and will in turn lead to business. This is somewhat akin to someone who feels that, if you bring someone enough milk and cookies, they will eventually take a romantic interest in you. Admittedly the analogy to dating and romance isn’t perfect, but there is something instructive in the concept of being relegated to the friendzone when you actually want a romantic relationship.
There is no single way to get a lawyer out of the martyr zone. These are solvable problems, which often involve finding the most comfortable way for a particular lawyer to ask for business or to let a referral source know that they want to explore the possibility of working together. How one does that varies from person to person and is very situation specific.
But the crucial first step is to understand that, when it comes to networking, it is possible to be too generous with your time or expertise.