Learn simple strategies for building relationships with other attorneys and increasing the value of your referral network.
There are many factors impacting the legal industry that are beyond a law firm’s control, one of which includes the intense competition that currently exists. According to the American Bar Association, there were 1.3 million licensed attorneys in the U.S. in 2015, up 1.5% from just the year before.
Finding new sources of revenue is one thing that could be controlled with the right strategy. However, it is not enough to attend networking events with an elevator pitch and business cards.
Small firm lawyers need to put a little more effort and creativity behind their networking strategy.
Here are some effective strategies that can help any attorney increase the value of their referral network:
1. Participate in mentoring
If you’re a solo attorney without at least one mentor or mentee, then you’re missing out on an easy way to expand your network and build a beneficial relationship. Having lunch or coffee with someone once a month and exchanging emails or phone calls is a small investment that could result in new business for your firm.
If you’re a young attorney or you’ve only recently started a solo practice, then there are few people who could give you better access to other attorneys than your mentor. A solo attorney who has been practicing for years is likely to have a huge network of colleagues they can introduce you to.
Additionally, when you find an opportunity that isn’t a good fit for your firm you can share it with your mentor or ask them to refer it out for you and facilitate an introduction. Essentially, you can leverage the network of someone who is already established.
On the other hand, if you’re mentoring a new solo, then you might be the one benefitting from your mentee’s connections. As a more experienced attorney, it’s likely you’re always busy with legal work and have even less time for networking. Your network may even be getting stale.
Since your mentee has fewer clients, they’ll be spending much more time building new relationships. It’s possible you could benefit from these new connections. The time and effort you put into a relationship with a new solo will create a such a strong sense of gratitude that when your mentee finds an opportunity you’ll be the first one they call.
Even if that opportunity isn’t a good fit for you, you can still share it with other lawyers in your network who will appreciate the new business and will thank you for connecting them to your mentee.
Networking works best when you create a web of contacts that you can link together. Facilitating relationships is just as important as forming them. You essentially gain allies in a tough legal market by offering help to your peers.
2. Start a mastermind group
It’s always a good idea to provide something useful at networking gatherings other than the opportunity to meet people. Bringing lawyers together for a presentation on practice management or even to just discuss new ideas will make them feel as if they received something of value out of the event, even if they didn’t meet any new referral sources. The best way to do this is by establishing a mastermind group.
A mastermind group is a group of people brought together by a common purpose. For example, you could create a mastermind group exclusively for solo and small firm attorneys striving to run a successful law practice.
Your group can be as small as 3-5 people or as large as 20 or more people. It’s up to you to decide how much you think you can manage, but the main goal of the group is to create a support system that can help participants set goals, solve problems and hold each other accountable.
Everyone in the group should meet on a regular basis to exchange advice and ideas. You can arrange for a guest speaker at your meeting or agree to all read the same ebook and discuss what you found useful.
Try to find one member who will speak or present something at each meeting. For example, if a group member experiences success with a marketing tactic, ask them to share their story with the rest of the group at the next meeting.
Although you might be meeting with the same lawyers every time, you’ll be having meaningful interactions with each other and providing mutual support. Eventually, you’ll build deep trust and rapport with the members of your mastermind group, which is the foundation upon which the best referral relationships are built. In addition to being able to rely on members of the group for guidance if your practice starts to struggle, you’ll all share your network with each other.
3. Rent shared office space
Forming relationships with other lawyers in a shared law office space benefits you in the same way seeking a mentor or joining a mastermind group does. The difference is that it requires far less effort to show up to your office and speak with your suitemates than it does to network anywhere else.
New client opportunities will often come up that are outside of a suitemate’s practice expertise. The first place they’re going to look to refer the matter is to their shared law office suitemates.
As you get to know your suitemates, you’ll find that it becomes common for attorneys in shared office space to collaborate on cases in order to retain more business. Soon your peers will start pulling you into cases they might have otherwise lost to a full-service law firm. This means increased profits and new clients for your firm — with very little effort.
In addition to getting new clients, having solid relationships with other attorneys will make you better at serving those clients. Never underestimate the accountability that referral create.
Since all your referral partners will be suitemates in your shared law office space, there will be social pressure and accountability for you to do a good job. You’ll become better at keeping your clients happy, which will result in more return business for your firm.
Why relationships are more important than numbers
You will meet dozens of people who can refer new clients to you, but never will because they don’t know you well enough. Maybe they met you briefly at an event and took your card, but quickly forgot about you or ignored your follow-up email.
Most people don’t care unless you make them care. Developing a relationship with someone based on something other than a cocktail and casual chat at a rooftop party will increase the ROI of your networking efforts.
Again, you should be working at creating a web of connections made up of reliable people you trust. Meaningful relationships will always result in better referrals because the lawyers you’re close to will feel an increased loyalty and a stronger desire to help you.
You never know when a fellow attorney will be able to do a favor for you, whether it’s referring business, making an introduction, or even just recommending something that will help improve your practice.