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Can you successfully grow your practice if you hate networking?

October 8, 2013

Can you successfully business develop if you hate networking?  Thankfully – because there are so many of you out there who would rather endure a root canal than an hour of  schmoozing at a board of trade event –  the answer is yes.

Networking can be defined as many things.  Networking defined as attending events, meeting twenty new people, following up after the event, and steadily adding new people to your “pipeline” is not the be all and end all of legal business development.  There – I have said it! For extroverts who love that kind of thing – go for it!  For the rest of us a different strategy can be as effective – I call it getting involved.  It still means you have to get out of your office, but you pursue a purpose other than simply networking.  The purpose is to get involved in an organization that is meaningful to you.  It may be that you will learn more about an legal area you are interested in, it may be that you can help develop a professional organization, or it might be a non-profit whose cause you want to get behind.  Let your personal interests and professional goals guide you in deciding where to invest your time.

The skill to develop is the ability to ask good questions, and listen and learn about the people you are meeting through your community or professional  involvement.  It also helps if you  introduce yourself in a way that gives the people you are meeting a little insight into what you do.

New business opportunities can flow in from many different sources.  Developing a rich group of contacts who know you and trust you is what helps generate business.  These relationships can be developed through work, through your involvement in the community, and for some lawyers I know – through their regular and prolific writing and blogging.  Allow your personal and professional strengths and interests  to guide your investments.


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What to do when faced with a boring client

July 26, 2010

Here’s a question I get all the time when I am running business development training courses:

“What do I do when the person I am speaking to is boring?” 

In essence, business development for lawyers is all about building trusting relationships. The quickest and most sure-fire way to build trust is to spend more time listening than speaking. To be a good listener you need to be a good questioner and learn to ask about things that get people interested and speaking about subjects that matter to them. 

Or, as Mark Hunter commented in his Slaw column last week: “ever notice that people do business with people they like?” Being a good listener is the fast track to being likeable. 

So what happens when you can’t listen? What do you do if you find your client or important contact boring?

Faking interest never works.  And just imagine being on the receiving end with someone looking at you with boredom. The natural reaction is to feel insulted and to then judge the person to be arrogant, aloof and yes, unlikeable.  

The answer:  It’s up to you to find what is interesting about the person. Push aside your judgemental inner voice and place your focus firmly on the other person. Everyone is interesting, your job is to uncover this.  Use questions to get the person speaking about things that are important to him/her.  Follow your curiosity. The goal here is to listen and discover, not to prove how interesting you are.  Some sample questions that can open up a conversation are:

  • How did you get into being a …. ?
  • What are you looking forward to this weekend?
  • I’m curious, what made you decide to… (go to that school, travel to Palm Springs, etc.)

Another approach is to ask for advice when the opportunity arises. The majority of people enjoy teaching. 

Take me for example. I don’t golf. I have never held a golf club. What do I do when faced with an avid golfer?  Instead of getting bored and shifting the subject, I dig into it. I confess my general ignorance and then ask to be enlightened.  What are the best golf courses in town? Has it been good for business development? What’s the best age to start kids in the sport? What have been the best golf courses they have ever played on? What I discovered is that while I am not interested in the sport  I am interested in what people like about it and get out of it. 

The bottom line: it’s up to you to turn it around. It is in your power to turn boring into interesting. 

When you show you are interested and really listen to the person you will distinguish yourself from the majority of people who do not.  The end result is that the person will then likely become interested in you and it will be your turn to tell your story.

My favorite resource on all things to do with listening is Just Listen by Dr. Mark Goulston.   He reminds us all that we are responsible for our own degree of interest with this quote: 

“Boredom is what happens when I fail to make someone interesting.”  Warren Bennis, Founding Chariman, USC Leadership Institute

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Start with getting the principles right

March 18, 2008

When it comes to learning, teaching, training, and engaging in business development the best starting point is a series of guiding principles that will apply to all your client development activities:

  1. Ask before telling
  2. Listen before speaking
  3. Discover how you can help

And I would add one caveat:

Don’t fumble the follow-up.

These principles form the foundation for all my business development coaching and training.

Applying these principles opens up an approach to business development that is equally accessible to introverted and extroverted personality types.  For example, at networking events the focus is not on talking about yourself, but on preparing ahead, asking great questions, learning important information about the people you are meeting, and following up after the event on what you have learned.  To learn more about how these principles apply in practice please visit my article Networking for Introverts on the Canadian legal weblog Slaw.ca.



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