Networking Strategies for Introverted Lawyers

Lawyerist readers are familiar with the mantra for building a law practice: networking, networking, networking. But there are lawyers out there who, despite their keen legal minds, are just painfully shy. For these lawyers, the idea of “working the room” at a cocktail party or calling someone that they hardly know to arrange a coffee or lunch meeting is not just undesirable, it actually could make them break into a cold sweat.

The risks of isolation

The introverted lawyer is not just at risk of being unable to develop a referral network that will generate business. In representing lawyers in discipline matters, I often see lawyers who are very isolated from other lawyers, whether it is by virtue of office location (working from home, renting an inexpensive office in a suburban office park, working in a rural area), a strong independence streak (“I will prove I can do this myself”), or, sometimes, not knowing how to get started networking. For some lawyers, isolation leads to bigger problems, such as not having colleagues to turn to when tough questions arise on files or not having anyone around to notice that the lawyer is showing signs of depression. It is troubling in a discipline case to represent a lawyer who cannot identify one or two friends with whom the lawyer has shared his or her problems and know the lawyer well enough to testify as a character witness.

Get in the game

Introverted lawyers should approach networking in ways that will minimize confrontation. For starters, become a joiner. Sign up for one or two bar committees, social organizations, or nonprofit boards that will have regular meetings. Small nonprofits, in particular, are eager to have lawyers serve on their boards. Through these meetings, over time, you will get to know your fellow participants and they will have the opportunity to get to know you.

These relationships may lead to a coffee or lunch date but it is not critical. You should find appropriate times—before meetings, during breaks, walking to the parking lot afterwards—to slip your elevator speech into the conversation. After you’ve served a two or three-year term, move on to another activity. Yes, this is a long-term strategy. But really, all networking is a long-term strategy and you will likely make deeper connections with people who actually work with you on projects than you would just by drinking a lot of coffee.

Go on-line

Introverts should also take the opportunity to participate in on-line discussion groups. Ask anyone who is active in a listserv and they will tell you that they get to know the personalities of their fellow participants just by reading their posts. More importantly, they develop trust in their colleagues and refer business to them. This is where an introverted lawyer can shine because often your strengths lie in deliberation and thoughtfulness (as opposed to your extroverted cousins, like me, who think while speaking, which occasionally has unintended consequences).

If your local bar association does not have an on-line discussion group or listserv, consider joining the ABA. No, it is not likely to generate referrals. Networking, however, is a skill. Like all skills, it needs to be practiced. After you get the hang of participating, perhaps you can be the one to introduce a listserv to your local bar.

Lastly, look for situations in which you can develop one-on-one relationships without the cold calling. Sign up for a mentoring program, for example. You put your name in, they contact you. Offer to visit or take meals to members of your religious community when they are ill. Join a book group. Just try to form relationships with people in environments that are suited to your personality.

Introversion is a personality type, not a disability. Everyone needs to play to their strengths, networking included.

Pssst, Buddy—Wanna Buy a Client?

Dark Alley Pssst, Buddy—Wanna Buy a Client?Running a successful law practice is all about getting clients. One way is by building a referral network, a frequent topic on Lawyerist. Another way is by advertising, such as in the yellow pages.

As traditional advertising methods wane, lawyers are getting excited by new methods of attracting clients through the internet. All those potential clients out there, yearning to find the lawyer of their dreams — all they need is a little encouragement. A little channelling. A system of connecting clients with lawyers. And lawyers will be eager to pay to have pre-screened clients sent their way – as long as they do not violate any ethics rules.

The general ethics rule is that a lawyer can not pay someone for referring a particular client or case. In fact, not only is a lawyer prohibited from paying but in most jurisdictions a lawyer cannot give “anything of valueâ€� to someone who recommends a lawyer’s services. No tickets to the Superbowl, no bottles of single-malt, not even a Starbucks gift card.

So unseemly. As draconian as that sounds, the practice of law has actually come a long way in its attitudes about advertising. Old school lawyers abhorred advertising as beneath the dignity of the profession. When SCOTUS declared in Bates v. Arizona (1977) that lawyers had a First Amendment right to advertise, then yellow pages ads, billboards, television commercials, local newspaper ads, little league jerseys, etc., all became fair game. None of these traditional advertising methods violates any rules on paying for clients because the advertisement is not targeted at a particular person with a specific legal problem. The fee is paid to the advertiser regardless of whether anyone ever reads the ad or contacts the lawyer. In short, the connection between the payment for the ad and the contact with a prospective client is attenuated at best.

Click here. Pay-per-click advertising, such as Google Adwords, presents a slightly more difficult question. In its simplest form, with Adwords an advertiser (such as a lawyer)  targets the words that consumers might search for using Google (e.g. “ethics lawyerâ€�). When someone searches using those words, the lawyer’s 4-line advertisement may show up above or to the right of the search results. The lawyer does not pay for the ad to appear but does pay when someone clicks on the lawyer’s ad and then is whisked away to the lawyer’s website.

So, the lawyer pays for clicks. Sounds pretty close to paying for each referral. But Google has no idea whether the clicker needs legal services, is just curious, or is bored at the office. Nor does Google guarantee a certain number of clicks or that the clickers will actually turn into paying clients. In the end, it looks more like targeted advertising than paying for clients.

Total Trouble? Several websites take targeting one step further and actually try to connect individual lawyers with individual clients. These on-line referral services, like Legal Match and Total Attorneys, invite prospective clients to submit information about their legal issues and then make that information available to lawyers who practice in the client’s geographical area. The lawyers pay for having access to these referrals.

Each service tries to avoid the ban on paying for referrals in its own way. With Legal Match, prospective client (PC) inquiries are routed to lawyer subscribers based on the lawyer’s practice area and location. The lawyer pays a flat subscription fee for the service. Presumably there are serveral lawyers for each location and practice area, so multiple lawyers are likely competing to respond to the same PCs (if there was only one lawyer, that would seem a lot more like paying for referrals). Several jurisdictions permit this type of service — Legal Match provides links to several ethics opinions.

Total Attorneys comes even closer to the line. Their referral program promises “geographical exclusivity� (only one attorney per practice area in a specific location) and “pay for performance� (the lawyer pays when Total Attorneys “produces results,� not a flat fee). The “performance� the lawyer pays for appears to be tied to new client contacts, not actual agreements to represent clients. Their scheme offended at least one gadfly who allegedly filed complaints against Total Attorneys lawyers in 47 jurisdictions for violating the rule against paying for referrals.  So far, it appears that the complaints in about a half-dozen of those jurisdictions have been dismissed, with Connecticut being the most recent. Whether we will ever find out the dispositions of the other 40+ complaints remains to be seen.

A final oddity in this area is that many states’ ethics rules allow nonprofits, such as bar associations, to operate referral services which charge attorneys directly for taking cases referred to them or require the lawyers to share the fees they receive with the bar association. Apparently, when a nonprofit is paid for a referral, it’s a public service; when anyone else receives a payment, it’s a pox upon the public interest.

As technology continues to change our lives, lawyer advertising will likely continue to change as well. If you’re thinking of being the first on your block to try a new method of attracting clients through the internet, make sure you are buying advertising, not clients.

lawyeristlab banner Pssst, Buddy—Wanna Buy a Client?

Pssst, Buddy—Wanna Buy a Client? is a post from the law firm marketing blog, Lawyerist.com

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Pssst, Buddy—Wanna Buy a Client?

Running a successful law practice is all about getting clients. One way is by building a referral network, a frequent topic on Lawyerist. Another way is by advertising, such as in the yellow pages.

As traditional advertising methods wane, lawyers are getting excited by new methods of attracting clients through the internet. All those potential clients out there, yearning to find the lawyer of their dreams — all they need is a little encouragement. A little channelling. A system of connecting clients with lawyers. And lawyers will be eager to pay to have pre-screened clients sent their way – as long as they do not violate any ethics rules.

The general ethics rule is that a lawyer can not pay someone for referring a particular client or case. In fact, not only is a lawyer prohibited from paying but in most jurisdictions a lawyer cannot give “anything of value” to someone who recommends a lawyer’s services. No tickets to the Superbowl, no bottles of single-malt, not even a Starbucks gift card.

So unseemly. As draconian as that sounds, the practice of law has actually come a long way in its attitudes about advertising. Old school lawyers abhorred advertising as beneath the dignity of the profession. When SCOTUS declared in Bates v. Arizona (1977) that lawyers had a First Amendment right to advertise, then yellow pages ads, billboards, television commercials, local newspaper ads, little league jerseys, etc., all became fair game. None of these traditional advertising methods violates any rules on paying for clients because the advertisement is not targeted at a particular person with a specific legal problem. The fee is paid to the advertiser regardless of whether anyone ever reads the ad or contacts the lawyer. In short, the connection between the payment for the ad and the contact with a prospective client is attenuated at best.

Click here. Pay-per-click advertising, such as Google Adwords, presents a slightly more difficult question. In its simplest form, with Adwords an advertiser (such as a lawyer)  targets the words that consumers might search for using Google (e.g. “ethics lawyer”). When someone searches using those words, the lawyer’s 4-line advertisement may show up above or to the right of the search results. The lawyer does not pay for the ad to appear but does pay when someone clicks on the lawyer’s ad and then is whisked away to the lawyer’s website.

So, the lawyer pays for clicks. Sounds pretty close to paying for each referral. But Google has no idea whether the clicker needs legal services, is just curious, or is bored at the office. Nor does Google guarantee a certain number of clicks or that the clickers will actually turn into paying clients. In the end, it looks more like targeted advertising than paying for clients.

Total Trouble? Several websites take targeting one step further and actually try to connect individual lawyers with individual clients. These on-line referral services, like Legal Match and Total Attorneys, invite prospective clients to submit information about their legal issues and then make that information available to lawyers who practice in the client’s geographical area. The lawyers pay for having access to these referrals.

Each service tries to avoid the ban on paying for referrals in its own way. With Legal Match, prospective client (PC) inquiries are routed to lawyer subscribers based on the lawyer’s practice area and location. The lawyer pays a flat subscription fee for the service. Presumably there are serveral lawyers for each location and practice area, so multiple lawyers are likely competing to respond to the same PCs (if there was only one lawyer, that would seem a lot more like paying for referrals). Several jurisdictions permit this type of service — Legal Match provides links to several ethics opinions.

Total Attorneys comes even closer to the line. Their referral program promises “geographical exclusivity” (only one attorney per practice area in a specific location) and “pay for performance” (the lawyer pays when Total Attorneys “produces results,” not a flat fee). The “performance” the lawyer pays for appears to be tied to new client contacts, not actual agreements to represent clients. Their scheme offended at least one gadfly who allegedly filed complaints against Total Attorneys lawyers in 47 jurisdictions for violating the rule against paying for referrals.  So far, it appears that the complaints in about a half-dozen of those jurisdictions have been dismissed, with Connecticut being the most recent. Whether we will ever find out the dispositions of the other 40+ complaints remains to be seen.

A final oddity in this area is that many states’ ethics rules allow nonprofits, such as bar associations, to operate referral services which charge attorneys directly for taking cases referred to them or require the lawyers to share the fees they receive with the bar association. Apparently, when a nonprofit is paid for a referral, it’s a public service; when anyone else receives a payment, it’s a pox upon the public interest.

As technology continues to change our lives, lawyer advertising will likely continue to change as well. If you’re thinking of being the first on your block to try a new method of attracting clients through the internet, make sure you are buying advertising, not clients.

Pssst, Buddy—Wanna Buy a Client? was originally published on Lawyerist.com.