Across many practice areas attorneys often receive referrals from other lawyers. Some refer business inside their firm, others help steer business outside their firm, but in either case it is common for new clients to originate from referrals. Other lawyers are an important part of a solid business development and marketing plan.
If this is true, then why don't you find lawyers treating each other as if they were made of solid gold. Connections to attorneys can be very valuable over a career. Networking and cultivating relationships with as many lawyers as possible should be a top priority. Being respectful to peers would be a great first step, but too often there is a tendency to dismiss others in the legal business without any thought to the long-term benefits to a successful practice.
A lawyer in any size firm can cost his firm big bucks by not being professional with opposing counsel. When you are disrespectful or try to bully the other side in litigation or in a deal negotiation, those on the other side of the table remember your actions. When you act in a way that leaves them with a sour impression, you can rest assured that they will never send business your way. It is not uncommon for lawyer who work opposite one another to later become allies (or even friends).
How you treat people matters.
Throughout this series of blog posts (The ABC's of Legal Marketing) we are talking about the importance of how you relate to people, and this is doubly important in regards to other lawyers. Your legal community, however defined, is a tight-knit group. Your reputation is your calling card. If you act like a pompous ass thinking it will show how tough or smart you are as a lawyer, it can (and will) backfire on your efforts to attract clients through this amazing network of those with JDs.
In addition to finding clients through referrals, it is more common than ever for lawyers to move their practice from one firm to another. There are many examples of partners who thought they would never change firms that are suddenly on the market for a new place to hang their shingle. If you have a long list of people you have alienated there will be fewer options for you (which means less money in compensation). The smartest firms are adopting the "No Jerk Rule", as law is a tough enough business without working with people you do not like or respect. Treating people poorly along the way is a fast-pass to less opportunity in your future.
Get involved with your local bar association and take a leadership role. Be engaged in your alumni association and any other groups that have lawyers as members. Create friendships, help others, and create a legacy of being a lawyer that others admire for both legal skills and people skills.
It is important to remember that others are not in business to be a one-way referral machine. If you want to establish long-term and mutually-beneficial relationship you must look for ways to help others reach their goals. Sometimes this mean referring clients to them (when you can), but it can also be as a resource for them and introducing them to others in the community. Ask question to discover what they need, as sometimes what is hard for them is easy for you.
A great way to start building relationships in the legal community is by reaching out to those you already know. Reconnect with former co-workers or law school friends. It is easier to reestablish a relationship than to start fresh. Learn about their practice and find ways to help them long before you ever expect anything from them.
Check the calendar for your local bar association and attend one or two educational or social events each month. If you make an effort to be part of the legal community you will find success.
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