Wedding vows and diamonds are supposed to be forever, but your membership in a bar association or other networking group probably shouldn’t be.
Too many lawyers join a bar association early in their careers and dutifully attend events for years or even decades even if their membership in that association doesn’t yield any referral sources. That’s not how it’s supposed to be.
In order to maximize your networking efforts, you need to know which of the networking organizations to which you belong provide the best client referrals. If you’re like the vast majority of attorneys, you are likely over relying on face-to-face networking to generate business. These days it’s not uncommon to be a member of six to twelve professional organizations including bar associations, industry groups, and alumni associations. But most of your best client referrals probably come from a concentrated source. In other words, several of the organizations to which you belong are marginally helpful at best, while just one or two generate a lion’s share of the best leads.
At the beginning of a lawyer’s career, it does make sense to cast a wide net and join several groups. This strategy helps overcome a new lawyer’s biggest obstacle to generating quality referrals—not enough people know them or what they do. It is time consuming to be involved in a dozen different groups, but at that stage of their career, lawyers typically have more time than money to devote to promotional activities.
But after a few years, lawyers should take a more focused and strategic approach to their networking efforts. They should go on a networking group diet. Most of the time this means that lawyers should identify one or two organizations in which they should be actively involved. They should either drop their affiliations with the other less useful organizations or make a conscious decision to consume less of their offerings.
This is what one of our clients recently did. When he formed his own law business litigation firm, it was imperative that he increase his visibility among both other lawyers and business owners. We therefore identified a dozen organizations that were based in three geographic areas in which he was interested—Pasadena, Downtown Los Angeles, and West Los Angeles. Some of these organizations had large concentrations of lawyers while others were venues where he could meet decision makers at businesses. Two of the organizations were industry specific. He also collaborated with another lawyer to organize informal gatherings of other lawyers. For the first 6-9 months, he dutifully attended many meetings, collected hundreds of business cards, and had dozens of follow up lunches and other in-person meetings.
Two years and hundreds of personal contacts later, the original list of a dozen organizations had been pared down substantially. He has increased his involvement with three organizations, including now serving on some of their committees and writing articles for their publications. The industry specific organizations proved to be unhelpful, so he dropped his involvement with them entirely. For a handful of other organizations he attends a meeting or two a year. Most importantly, he sends an informative electronic newsletter to stay in touch with the hundreds of people that he has met in the last few years. This has proved to be a much more efficient and effective way to stay in touch with the potential clients and referral sources in which he is most interested.
Your mileage may, of course, vary. The specific mix of organizations to which you belong and how active you should be will vary depending on your specific circumstances and the markets you are trying to serve. But in my experience consulting with clients, the general pattern of taking a broad initial approach to networking and then paring it down applies to a broad array of lawyers and law firms.
So while bar associations and alumni associations may be a great place to socialize and fulfill MCLE compliance, be open to the possibility that they may not provide the best business development opportunities. As your client needs change and your career evolves, your membership in organizations and involvement in events should change as well.