Does networking still require real people?

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Published on 10/5/09

Thanks to the social media phenomenon — LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and the rest — some lawyers may think they're doing all the networking they need on the Internet.

After all, when you invite other business associates to be part of your online contact network, or they invite you, the creation of such a network soon grows potential contacts exponentially. Do you really need a physical meet with any of these people to get value from them as contacts?

The answer, I firmly believe, is yes. Any business, including the business of law, grows through personal relationships. Relationships are established one at a time, between lawyer and prospective client. The successful law firm is the one that amasses and draws upon this fund of relationships created by individual lawyers.

Can you get by with Twitter? Say your practice focuses on bankruptcy. You can search for "bankruptcy" and find any Twitter user anywhere in the world who is talking about bankruptcy in real time.

Is it worthwhile for building relationships? My experience showed that within 48 hours of becoming a user, I received two invitations to speak at conferences. Beyond that, however, I have not seen any revenue generated. The value depends on your metric for success: revenue or contacts who may eventually generate revenue.

The point is that there may be better and more effective ways to network, and to do it directly with real live people. If these relationships are important, where do you start? The fact is that every lawyer already has built concentric networking circles that can be expanded to serve as business development connections. The first of these concentric circles includes your friends and family, and the widening circles beyond that core include:

  • Current clients, particularly those who can refer you to new contacts

  • Past clients who may have developed new needs since you last worked with them

  • Former classmates in undergraduate or law school

  • Former colleagues at other firms or organizations where you may have worked

  • Industry partners / professional service providers

  • Fellow members of boards of directors and other leadership groups

  • Contacts made at bar association events, community activities and industry groups
These contacts create two types of networks. In your community network you interact with individuals who may not see you as a professional service provider but who nonetheless represent potential clients: participants in cultural events that you enjoy, alumni association contacts and/or members of an industry group in which you participate.

By contrast, your professional network includes professional referral sources who may not become clients themselves but who can refer you to theirs. These referral sources include brokers, bankers, CPAs, consultants, financial planners and other lawyers.

Bring to these networks the same organization and focus that you would to an investment portfolio, categorizing individuals by geographic location, by professional specialty, by activity and by personal interest. Then begin networking — the practical process of systematically expanding business development relationships by meeting and talking with them. You may find it much more rewarding than constantly typing 140-character Twitter messages.

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