Theresa, a client of mine, has been a partner at one of the largest and most prestigious law firms in her state and has been in practice for almost 35 years. She is well-respected for her legal expertise, devotion to clients and the firm, and tenacious work ethic. In the last several years, however, as the firm’s original rainmakers have retired or passed on, Theresa has felt increasing pressure from her partners to bring in business, which she had never before been expected to do. In our very first meeting, Theresa was determined to put to rest the notion that she would engage in networking for the purpose of business development.

“Networking doesn’t work,” she told me defiantly. “I’ve been involved with the bar association for years and I’ve never gotten any business from it.”

Why Are You Spending Your Time With Lawyers?

Notwithstanding the title of this article, being an active member of your bar association – in other words, hanging out with other lawyers – can be a worthwhile endeavor for many reasons. Through consistent bar association participation, you can share ideas with colleagues in practice specialty groups, sharpen your practice with CLE offerings, assume leadership or educate others, be part of a powerful lobby, affect policy, ensure legal services are available to underserved populations, make friends, and even save money through the many discounts offered to members.

If those are the reasons you attend bar association events or volunteer for committees, there is almost no end to the benefits you will enjoy. But if you’re hanging out with other lawyers because you think you’re going to get clients that way, it may be time to review your strategy.

Who Are Your Clients?

If your clients are lawyers, you’re networking in the right place. In fact, you may want to get involved in another bar association or two. For most lawyers, though, your typical client is not another attorney.

Ask yourself the following questions and write the answers down to take this exercise from the theoretical (an interesting read) to the practical (actually getting clients).

  • What type of individual or entity do I typically represent?
  • For individual clients, what are their demographics?
  • For business or non-profit entities, what industry are they in?
  • What are the problems clients ask me to solve? In other words, what do I do for them?

Who Are Your Best Referral Sources?

To the extent clients come to you by referral, who are the people who typically refer business to you? Lawyers, accountants, real estate agents, former clients?

As with your client base, if you review your referral sources and find that you get many of your referrals from other attorneys, bar association involvement may continue to net you clients. (In that case, you might want to narrow your focus even further to determine precisely what types of lawyers send you referral business).

This is a critical exercise, so when determining who your referral sources are, don’t guess. Go through your records and make a list of your referral sources for the last 3 – 5 years. You may be surprised at what you learn.

Where Do Your Client and Referral Sources Congregate?

Now that you have gotten very clear on who your clients and referral sources are, it’s time to go out and find them. So . . . where are they?

  • What associations do they belong to?
  • What conferences do they attend?
  • What charitable causes are they passionate about?
  • What trade industry publications do they read, publish in, or advertise in?

If you are not sure of the answer, don’t be afraid to do some research to find out. The best way to do that is to pick up the phone and call several of your clients to ask. Just tell them that you are interested in improving your service to your clients and ask if it would be okay to ask a few questions about their industry and their professional habits. Listen carefully, take notes, and then actually leverage that newly discovered information by joining organizations they mention, attending or speaking for their conferences, or subscribing to or writing for periodicals your clients read.

Go Fishing in the Right Pond

Make business development easier for yourself. One of the very best ways to find more clients is to start hanging out where your prospective clients hang out. Go where they go. Read what they read. Care about what they care about. The time you spend getting to know their challenges, concerns and goals will enable you to serve your clients with more skill and understanding. And the more time you spend with them, the more your prospects will get to know, like and trust you, paving the way for them to hire you when the need arises.

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