You cannot market a professional services career from behind closed doors. Lawyers are not commodity widgets, and cannot be sold as such. Thinking that being in your office doing great work for clients will build a sustainable book of business is short sighted. Oh, and it wont work.
As an attorney YOU are the product. People want to do business with those they now like and trust, and while tangible items can be sold without any personal human-to-human connections, a professional service often requires the person who performs the work to be engaged in their community.
A mistake made by many firms is that they join nothing or they join everything. Besides, the firms is not what needs to join, it is the individual lawyers.
If you join nothing you fall back into the "out of sight is out of mind" situation. Those who are engaged in a community expect others to also have connections into the larger ecosystem. However, joining everything means you most likely do not participate properly in any one thing.
When I suggest people "join" organizations I make sure they realize that the commitment goes beyond paying the annual membership dues if they expect their money to be well spent. Joining alone gets your name in the directory, but most of the time that is useless. To find the value in joining a civic, business, philanthropic or social organization you must be involved.
Being involved means showing up and serving. When someone belongs to too many groups they end up doing "drop in networking", which means they drop in a couple of times a year when their schedule allows. However it takes time for people to notice you, much less establish any long-term and mutually beneficial relationships. I believe it can take as many as seven to ten times of showing up at events before the other members begin to feel you are part of their crowd. Since most of these organizations meet only once a month, that means it will take participating for nearly a year before you will begin to grow connections. If you only go twice, you will never establish real bonds with people.
Choosing which groups to support is key. There is not one magic club that will feed a pipeline of referrals over a lifetime. Each person, firm and practice area have differing needs.
I recommend lawyers find two or three organizations that whey will be dedicated to joining and in which they are committed to participate. You can belong to more and drop in on those as appropriate, but your main groups get an "A-level" commitment. This means you treat these meetings on par with appointments with your top clients.
What you prioritize is a choice that you make. Do not fall into the trap of rationalization about networking vs. client work. When you have two meetings a month you MUST attend, then you can find a way to adapt your schedule.
Within these prioritized groups you should be volunteering to serve on committees or on the board of directors. It is when you work together with others that you build your reputation and cultivate friendships. But be careful, if you commit and then drop the ball you will damage the way people view your work ethic. Blowing off a committee meeting because you are busy tells the other members of the group they are not important to you. If they found a way to be present at the meeting, you should as well. Everyone is busy and everyone has other commitments. (There are exceptions, but exceptions that happen every time are not exceptions, they are the norm).
Find organizations that are appealing to your clients, prospects and referral sources. Bringing others along to meetings is a great way to forge deeper friendships. Your participation can be the conduit for hosting others from time to time.
If you get a lot of referrals from other lawyers then bar groups (or other legal based organizations) are a great idea. If you do not see any business from other attorneys then these are a valuable use of your time. You can still choose to volunteer for your Bar activities, but do not pretend it is marketing your practice.
Social, civic, and philanthropic organizations are also a great way to meet and establish connections with others in your local business community. Only join groups that have a purpose that matches your interests. Do not join the young professionals group at your city's symphony or ballet if you do not enjoy music and dance. Joining because there is "good networking opportunities" will not keep you as motivated over the long run, and you will not participate often enough to have an impact (plus when you hate being there, others can tell).
As you interact with clients (and others), ask them what they are involved with in you local area and beyond. This is a great way to learn about all sorts of business, social and philanthropic groups in your community. You may be surprised by all the great options you have to be involved. Visit the ones that sound interesting to insure the culture of the group is a match with your own personality.
Remember that the pay-off from joining groups comes from the time and energy that you invest in your participation. Many mistakenly think that there is no value from being involved in their community because they have never really been involved. Sending a check might seem like "joining"... but it is not. Those who are engaged will discover amazing opportunities over the long run.
Have A Great Day
Thom Singer is experienced in legal marketing and business development. He regularly speaks at law firm retreats inspiring attorneys to embrace their brand and increase their sales. He also teaches lawyers ways to improve their presentation skills as the firm's secret weapon for business development success. More information at www.ThomSinger.com.