Networking

Ed. note: This post is sponsored by NexFirm. At NexFirm, we see dozens of new firms launch each year, and we seem to bond with both the people and the practice every time around. Their accomplishments feel like our success, and their disappointments, our failures. It makes for a great professional relationship, but it can also be painful when we see them repeat the same, predictable, new firm mistakes — especially ones that can be avoided with some guidance and forethought.

Attorneys who are launching their own firms tend to wring their hands over every small decision and miss the big picture. You feel overwhelmed, so you want to work feverishly to tackle your to-do list. After a long day full of “doing” without much “thinking,” you feel like you’ve really accomplished something. It’s an easy trap to fall into. It’s crucial to be thoughtful about the big things, set time aside to think about them, and treat them like the other action items on your list.

Start with these, the low hanging (albeit important) fruit:

1. Leave, Don’t Quit.

Focused on the unpleasant task of giving notice, worrying that you might piss someone off or — worse yet — be impeded from transitioning matters, you can easily miss the best marketing opportunity you will ever get. Use your resignation to ask your employer to give you business. Beg them, guilt them, scare them, do whatever you need to do, but make it happen. There is no one that knows you and your work better. If you can’t convince them to help you, in at least some small way, you are in trouble…

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The news continues to be bad for the impatient “just get me on the internet” types regarding the development of relationships. Regardless of how many times your name appears on the first page of Google, developing meaningful professional relationships still takes time, and it always will. Sorry.

I recently read of a lawyer who closed up shop, a prominent reason being that after dropping from the first page to fourth page of Google, “the phone stopped ringing.” Google doesn’t develop relationships that bring referrals. Some learn that that hard way.

I spoke at a local breakfast last week. It was a kick-off of a new chapter of a monthly “lawyers” group. There were 20 lawyers. One guy was in his 70s and is now of counsel to a firm after a long career, another just graduated law school and drove two hours to meet some Miami lawyers. Not sure why he drove so far to meet lawyers instead of sitting at home and poking around on LinkedIn. Anyway, a few said they were with firms I knew, and there were a bunch of solo practitioners, some just a few years in, and others who have been at it for a while.

I know, you’re thinking, “Sounds like BNI.” Kind of, but BNI is weekly, and not limited to lawyers.

As this was the first meeting of the second local chapter, everyone was there to check it out, to decide whether they would attend a second meeting. After going around the room and introducing themselves to each other, and then ending the meeting by walking around and exchanging business cards and “do you know so and so…” some will apply, while others will see getting up for a 7:30 a.m. breakfast once a month as the most awful thing they could think of and never come back.

The host of the meeting said something that may cause some not to return: “No one in this room is required to refer clients to each other.”

Wait, what? You can’t just sit there, eat eggs, and the cases will come?

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Liz Brown, author of Life After Law: Finding Work You Love With the J.D. You Have (affiliate link), offers suggestions for at least appearing engaged at the office while contemplating leaving the law behind.

Someone asked me a great question the other day. “I’m having a hard time staying engaged at the office,” she explained. “I want to leave, but I’m not sure what to do next. How do I keep up the appearance that I’m still interested in practicing law while I figure out my next move?”

This in-between stage is hard in so many ways. It can be hard to force yourself to work on cases when you no longer care about the outcome. It can be hard to make yourself meet your billable hour minimum when you find the work dull and unrewarding. It can be hard to act happy, or at least not to growl at people, when you desperately want to do something else. Here are seven strategies for the summer of your discontent.

Continue reading at the ATL Career Center…

I know it’s not popular to write about lawyers doing well, because misery loves company, but the sad truth is, there are lawyers who don’t spend their days blaming their law school for the fact that they should have never thought of becoming lawyers, or trying to figure out how every new “future of law” tool on the internet can bring them clients.

There are lawyers, regardless of what you’ve been convinced of, who are actually making a living off the time and sweat they have put into their practice. These are the lawyers getting multiple calls a week, whose main concern is not counting the days until their worthless LinkedIn connections bear fruit, but how they are going to get all the work done, and if the stride will continue.

So for the whiners out there, the heartbroken dreamers, the ones who believe expressing their anonymous anger on the internet will one day result in something positive, take the week off. I want to talk to the success stories out there in Small-Law-Ville (anyone own that term yet?)….

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From your only source of knowledge anymore Wikipedia:

“A hobby is a regularly undertaken activity that is done for pleasure, typically, during one’s leisure time. Hobbies can include the collection of themed items and objects, engaging in creative and artistic pursuits, tinkering, playing sports, along with many more examples. By continually participating in a particular hobby, one can acquire substantial skill and knowledge in that area.”

Although unintentional, a hobby is one of the best marketing tools around.

Oh, now I have your attention?

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, in the fifth of five related articles, Casey Berman, founder of Leave Law Behind, a blog and community that focuses on helping unhappy attorneys leave the law, discusses the fifth step attorneys can take to leave the law. Previous articles in this series can be found here, here, here, and here.

As we discussed in the first four articles of this series, through Leave Law Behind, I work with many intelligent attorneys who nonetheless are unhappy and want to leave the law behind and do something else. They want to change their life and their work and their focus with the goal to be more satisfied, more confident, and happier.

I tell them the first step in leaving the law behind involves getting a handle on their money situation; to become as confident and exact as possible in understanding (i) their expenses, as well as any (ii) safety net and other sources of financial support they can call upon if needed….

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Tom Wallerstein

I try to approach new relationships without an express agenda. In my experience, business has always come from relationships indirectly, and unexpectedly. Looking back at my firm’s engagements with 20/20 hindsight, it is undeniable that positive relationships led to the work. But that was impossible to predict looking forward.

For example, lunch with a casual acquaintance became a friendship and led to a very lucrative engagement when he later developed a conflict. I could not have predicted at the time how the lunch would later lead to important business.

In fact, had I approached the lunch with a strict agenda, I never would have formed the friendship or subsequent business. Instead of meeting with the goal of developing business, I met with the goal of having a nice lunch. It is a well-known irony that sometimes it is easier to get something when you stop trying so hard…

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Tom Wallerstein

Whether you are a partner or associate, working in Biglaw or in a boutique, the key to success is developing a book of business. And the key to developing business is to focus instead on developing a book of relationships. As I wrote before, “business is an engagement, a lawsuit, a transaction; it is measured in money. A relationship is a connection with a human being. A book of business is virtually impossible for an associate to build. A book of relationships is available to first year associates and partners alike.” No matter how good a lawyer you may be, people still want to do business with people they know and like on a personal level…

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Tom Wallerstein

My six-year-old is never satisfied. If I offer him a piece of candy, he asks if he can have two pieces. If I tell him he can watch a 30-minute TV show, he asks if he can watch a 90-minute movie.

As annoying as that can be, I have a grudging respect for his persistence. In my opinion, his attitude exemplifies the kind of approach I think makes for a successful lawyer, not to mention running a successful business.

Refusing to be satisfied pays dividends in terms of your professional development. At the same time, the instincts of a six-year-old may be counterproductive. For example, when a case resolves unfavorably, our knee-jerk reaction is to blame forces beyond our control. You lost because the jury got it wrong, or the judge didn’t understand something, or the client didn’t tell you something. The words come out like an angry stream. There are a dozen rationalizations for why it was anyone’s fault but your own. Hopefully, when the heat cools down, and you find your mind, you will ask yourself what you could have done differently.

But I think what is less common, yet equally valuable, is going through this exercise even when a case resolves favorably. There is always room for improvement, and a post-mortem debriefing always makes sense. Rather than being satisfied with reaching a great settlement, or a great victory at trial, it behooves you to consider not only what you did right, but what you might have done differently….

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There’s no lack of advice these days about what lawyers should be doing to get clients or run their practices. And you take it. You take the advice of the former lawyers with no clients or practices, or the perennial failures who understand that lawyers are gullible when it comes to advice about making money. But still, you take it, or God forbid, pay for it.

So you create a Facebook Fan Page for your law firm and ask everyone to “like” your page. You go on LinkedIn and join groups. You go on Avvo.com and ask lawyers to endorse you. Your website is “awesome” and you’ve got an e-mail newsletter campaign going. Offline, you do the Bar association networking circuit. You’ve met some people for lunch, and you even had an article published. By the way, you’re also a good lawyer and have some happy clients.

But the phone isn’t ringing, or isn’t ringing enough. You get to the point of frustration, and start thinking of discontinuing part of your marketing, or worse, closing your practice.

Let’s be honest, some of you won’t make it. You’re decent lawyers but have no business sense. Some lawyers need to work for someone else. That’s why we have Biglaw, so really smart people with no ability to make a buck on their own can pretend they are superior.

Let’s say though that quitting is not an option, but neither is continuing on this path. You’re just trying to figure out which of the half-dozen things you’re doing is worth continuing, and what else you need to do.

So I’ll take a stab at it. My apologies for being a lawyer with clients and a practice, as I know I’m not the typical guru selling you on the dream….

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