Build Your Law Practice: Become a Network Resource Hub
Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC.
Suzanne Meehle wrote a nice post called With a Little Help from My Friends about the value to a lawyer of network development, whether inside or outside your organization. A network of co-workers, friends and acquaintances can help you build your law practice and be the best lawyer you can be. Here are some things a good network can do for you:
1. Refer business to you;
2. Answer legal questions outside your area of expertise;
3. Act as a sounding board as you puzzle out a tough legal issue;
4. Share tips and methods for effectively running your law practice;
5. Save you from reinventing the wheel by sharing a starting form for a document you need to draft;
6. Take care of your good clients on matters you don’t usually handle;
7. Cover for you when a vacation or emergency takes you away from the office;
8. Make recommendations about vendors, software or technology they have found reliable; and
9. Introduce you to speaking, writing or leadership opportunities that will get your name out there.
Those are just a few of the reasons why you need to build your law practice network, and Suzanne gave some good concrete examples of how her network has helped her.
Now I’m asking you to flip that card over and ask yourself, “Why does my network need me?” If you don’t provide value to your network, it will atrophy. You can do for others all of those things enumerated above that you use your network for. I also encourage you to expand your view beyond the legal community when you imagine your network.
Why Become a Resource Hub?
To maximize your network and optimize its usefulness, strive to be the person who knows where to find the answers to the problems that your clients, friends and acquaintances encounter. You don’t need to have all the answers to build your law practice. Just develop the ability to find the right answers or the right people.
When you become the “go to” person for problem-solving, you get first dibs on the legal work that arises from the problem. Then you get to dole out referrals for the work you don’t want or which falls outside your expertise. When you keep helping people solve their problems and handing out referrals, you’ll have armies of people watching for opportunities to return the favor to you and help build your law practice.
Over a decade ago, I was surprised to receive a request from an acquaintance for a referral of a reliable financial planner in San Francisco. Because I was a lawyer in Houston, that seemed a bit beyond my reach. It affirmed the strength of my network, however, when she said, “Well, you’re such a good resource. I just thought I would give it a shot.”
How to Become a Networking Hub
Here are a few things you can do to become a good hub.
1. Maintain a searchable database of contacts.
Most law practice management software, and even Outlook, will permit you to code or categorize your contacts. Attach a category, code, tag or searchable note to each lawyer in your database respecting their practice areas. Make similar notations of vendors that attorneys or your clients use, such as expert witnesses, court reporters, accountants, financial planners, real estate agents, event planners, and even florists and babysitters. When you hear of a need, you can quickly pull up a list of the people you know that fit the description, to see who you might feel comfortable recommending.
2. Build your social media network.
LinkedIn and other social media networks make it so much easier to broaden your reach beyond your home turf to build your law practice. With their search features, if I received that request for a California financial planner today, the outcome would be different. It would be so much easier to identify someone I know in California who I could trust to give me a referral or to vet a potential referral I already discovered.
3. Offer to help find speakers and writers.
Program chairs, event planners and editors exhaust their repertoire of ideas and candidates for the events and publications they are responsible to organize throughout the year. Most are delighted to find someone who will brainstorm fresh topics and potential speakers and writers. Once again, you can have first dibs on opportunities you like. Then in addition to building goodwill with the planner or editor, you get to hand out favors to lawyers or vendors who would love a turn in the limelight.
4. Keep your ears and eyes open for a chance to connect people for their mutual benefit.
Think of every problem or complaint you hear about as an opportunity to connect someone with a solution. That doesn’t mean you should be a know-it-all handing out unsolicited advice. You could ask whether they are looking for solutions, however. If they are, you can offer to make an introduction to someone who might be helpful, or promise to keep your ears open for someone. Perhaps when you check your database, you’ll find just the right person.
These are just a few thoughts about how and why you can build your law practice by becoming a resource hub. I hope you’ll share your ideas and observations in the comments below.