Small Law Firms

The Practice: Enough with the Worthless Networking

Being a small firm lawyer usually means that you’re not a cog in the wheel of some multi-national corporation while enjoying their stream of business sent to your firm because of someone on another floor. Small firm lawyers either have to blow their brains out on ads featuring their angry mugs (arms crossed in aggressive, “fight-for-you” anger), direct mail, or the art and science of talking to people and developing relationships, otherwise known as networking.

In this arena, there are two types of lawyers: Those that “don’t do networking,” and those that do it because it is required to establish a word of mouth practice. I know you think there’s a third — those that love networking, but those lawyers are to be avoided at all costs. Lawyers that love going out after work and eating bar food, drinking low-level vodka, and asking “so, where’s your office,” are rejects. Ignore them. They just want to give you their business card the minute they lay eyes on you and tell you to “call (me) whenever you have a (usually PI or real estate) matter.”

For those that want the word of mouth practice, and the reputation in the community as a go-to person (assuming you are a competent lawyer, and these days, that’s a big assumption), here are some things to consider….

Business cards are your enemy.

I don’t carry business cards anymore. What’s the point? Yes, mine say “attorney at law” (so cool), and have my phone number and email address, but who gives a crap? You know who says “always carry business cards”? People who take them and put you on their garbage newsletter email lists and think it’s okay for them to ever talk to you again. I’ll take your card and you can look me up on Google if you want to stalk me. Plus, cards don’t equal relationships — hand me yours the minute we meet, and we’re done. So let’s talk, let’s have a conversation; if there’s a reason we should talk again, we’ll find each other. Trust me, if I need to remember you, I will.

People other than lawyers network (really).

You’re a lawyer, so of course you’re going to the bar association networking events and judicial receptions. That’s nice, and very narrow-minded.

Charities have networking events. You like charity? Go hang out with some doctors, accountants, business owners, moms, and people who actually don’t spend their days talking to lawyers — people who won’t immediately say, “I think we have a case together.” Non-lawyers are actually more interested in speaking to lawyers at social events than lawyers. Even if you don’t do criminal law, some flirtatious cutie (can I say that here? could be a guy, too) will ask after three drinks: “So can I call you if I get a DUI?”

Follow up like a non-lawyer.

“Dear Tom, it was a pleasure…”

Oh, shut the hell up. Write like you actually want to talk to the guy again — and not everyone is worth a follow up. Most people you meet have nothing to offer and there’s nothing you can do for them, so save it for the real potential relationships. “Tom, I’ve attached an article, invitation to _________, (whatever). I thought based on our conversation you may be interested… blah, blah blah. If you can’t make it, let me know so I can take you to lunch in the next couple of weeks. I’d like to learn more about your (business, practice, meth habit, whatever) as I think I may be able to send some business your way.”

And for all those email gurus who think the subject line has to be magical — the most magical subject line that causes me to open an email is no subject. All the other emails have “guru magic” subjects, and I delete them.

Be a host.

Yeah, I know, freeloading on someone else’s liquor and those small quiches (which are always terrible), all in the name of getting some business, is attractive. But where does it put you in the networking world if every month, or quarter, or twice a year, you’re the host of an event? Partner up with a bank, vendor (all those accounting firms that claim to do “litigation support”), or venue looking for a crowd on a Tuesday night. Invite lawyers, non-lawyers, and judges, and have no agenda. Yes, it may cost you some money, sorry to disappoint. No speeches, no name tags, just people talking and trying to converse without the use of a smart phone.

And never, ever forget the most polite way to end a conversation at any networking event: “Where’s the bar?” (Don’t say you’ll be right back, no one ever is.)


Brian Tannebaum will never “get on board” at the advice of failed lawyers who were never a part of the past but claim to know “the future of law.” He represents clients, every day, in criminal and lawyer discipline cases without the assistance of an Apple device, and usually gets to work (in an office, not a coffee shop) by 9 a.m. No client has ever asked if he’s on Twitter. He can be reached at bt@tannebaumweiss.com.

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