For many lawyers, networking is a four letter word, but these six tips can help change that.
You may think that networking is a necessary evil to keep the phone ringing with new clients. But, in a shared law office space, networking is as easy as showing up to work and being nice to your neighbors.
In its most basic form, networking is simply socializing with people who have similar business interests, and socializing comes naturally in a shared workspace. It’s been our experience that the attorneys who see a tremendous amount of value in the form of easily found client referrals stay socially organized by following an easy six-step system.
Step 1. Get yourself introduced
If you are new to a shared office space, make an effort to go around and say “Hi!” to all of your new officemates. You don’t have to do the circuit all at one time. In fact, it is probably best that you don’t. It might seem insincere and you won’t be able to remember everyone’s names or what you’ve learned about each person’s practice and personal life.
Instead, allow it to happen naturally as you encounter your neighbors by the water cooler, the copy machine, or in the elevator. If you find that after a few days there are some people you’ve left out, now’s the time to make an effort to seek them out so that they don’t feel slighted.
If after a few days there are people you still haven’t met, ask the person who is responsible for operating the space to make an introduction. Or you can ask a new friend to introduce you to someone they know.
Step 2.Talk to people, and do it regularly!
After initial introductions, make time to continue to get to know your officemates. Get in the habit of doing a “walk around” once a day to say hey and have quick conversations with your neighbors. Obviously, be respectful if they look busy. Most importantly, don’t overstay your welcome.
As we like to say in our office, hit the eject button early and always leave them wanting more.
Step 3. Be a great conversationalist (sadly, it’s not all about you)
If you engage in a conversation, keep it short, light and all about them. Ask about their weekend plans, their hobbies, how their kids are doing.
A conversation should not be a monolog. Nobody likes to talk to a self-centered blowhard. Ironically, most people’s favorite topic of conversations is themselves. And lawyers take it to the next level: Most lawyers LOVE to hear the sound of their own voice.
In a shared office space, you must use this social phenomenon to your advantage. As a general rule, you should get in the habit of asking your colleagues questions that get’s them talking about themselves. You’ll come off as one of the most interesting conversationalists they know without having said much.
Step 4. Use your need for legal advice to open the door to conversations.
One of the best perks of building your practice in a shared law office space is often the one most easily overlooked: The ability to work through a legal issue with a neighbor or colleague just down the hall. At Law Firm Suites, we have found that there is a direct correlation between the amount of time spent discussing practice issues with suite mates and the benefit an attorney derives from his office space.
You’d be surprised how much billable time can be saved by having a five-minute conversation with a colleague who can point you in the exact direction you need to be, rather than spinning your wheels on the Westlaw portal.
If you find yourself needing to talk through a legal issue, ask your officemates. Lawyers love to feel knowledgeable and teaching a peer is one of the best ways to bond. Attorneys in shared office space expect the favor to be returned one day, so they are typically generous with their time. Just expect to return the favor to someone else when the need comes up down the road.
Step 5. Give first, get a lot later
Once a week, go out to lunch with an officemate. Start by scheduling a lunch commitment in your calendar, as a recurring weekly event. Then, find officemates to fill this standing appointment. If you schedule it, then you will commit to it. Finding a lunch partner is never hard, everyone has to eat at some point.
The rules of dating also apply to business networking, so if you ask a colleague out to lunch, you should pay for it! Think of the spend as a marketing investment. A $60.00 lunch now may lead to $60,000.00 referral later.
Keep the lunch conversation light and relaxing. For the most part, try to stay away from talking about work. The goal is for you and your officemate to get to know each other on a personal level. The stronger the personal connection you make, the more likely business referrals will flow.
Step 6. Cement the relationship by following up on specific details shared
The devil is in the details. One of the best ways to accelerate the relationship building process is to follow up with people who you’ve just met about specific things they’ve shared with you about themselves. Did their son compete in a big soccer tournament? Ask how the games went. Did they take their car to the shop for repairs? Commiserate about the expense to maintain a vehicle. Did they go away for a weekend trip? Ask if they would recommend their hotel.
Being specific when you follow-up demonstrates that you were interested enough to remember the details and ask about things that are important to them. The truth is, most people do not remember the details. Using this to your advantage will make you stand out from the vast majority of poor networkers.
Unless you have a photographic memory, it can be difficult to remember all the details about the people you meet. Get in the habit of making notes about your conversations after each encounter or meeting with a new person. The mere act of writing down the specifics will help you to recall them when the opportunity comes up.
Once the relationship with a person develops, you’ll have a history of topics to discuss and you shouldn’t need to continue taking notes on that person