You cannot know too many lawyers! Any lawyer you meet can be a friend, mentor, referral source, go-to person for a practice area or all of the above. Do not overlook the potential for career and personal growth presented by your day-to-day interactions with other lawyers.
Volunteer time spent on nonprofit boards, committees, projects and municipal or charitable activities can provide valuable networking opportunities. These groups appreciate having a lawyer as a member, but be prepared to avoid an attorney-client relationship if you are asked for legal advice.1
Do not overlook opportunities for leadership within the profession. The WSBA and KCBA have a variety of sections and groups that offer lawyers the opportunity to meet other lawyers with similar interests. Consult the specialty bars in your area for similar opportunities. Sections and specialty bar associations may also have helpful referral mechanisms such as list serves, discussion groups and a case referral service for the public.
Boards and bar committees also provide opportunities to meet other lawyers while shaping important state policies. The WSBA offers opportunities to serve on committees, boards and panels that may affect the practice of law statewide.
Volunteering as faculty for CLE events is another good way to meet other lawyers who are co-presenters, as well as the attendees themselves. This activity enables you to enhance your professional credentials in a very visible way. Even online, the viewers and listeners now know about you.
Consider formally or informally mentoring or otherwise assisting other practitioners who may have a future need to refer matters to you.
While all of these activities are rewarding in their own right, they also contribute toward building your network, your reputation and, hopefully, your book of business. You can cultivate referrals by doing all of the activities discussed above, closely managing your reputation, and being a good source of referrals yourself.
Referrals arise when the referring lawyer has an unwaivable conflict, the work required is beyond the lawyer’s capabilities or area of expertise, or the lawyer’s schedule precludes additional work. Sometimes a lawyer will refer work if he or she does not feel comfortable with the client’s personality or other circumstances of the matter.
Your professional reputation defines how others calculate the value of referring matters to you while considering both probable return referrals and your client service. When considering referring out work yourself, it is a good practice to refer out types of cases that may repay you with a fair return of new work.
Build your “reputations.” Interactions with other lawyers and members of the legal profession, whether formal or informal, shape opinions that follow you over your entire career. Consider the multiple facets of your reputation:
• Your professional reputation establishes you among colleagues. Your practice area, integrity, honesty, level of service, knowledge of the law, and how easy you are to deal with all come into play.
• Your social reputation establishes you among colleagues, friends, family and staff. Your social reputation includes how others perceive your table manners, use of alcohol (if applicable) and social bearing as you engage in professional activities, hobbies, sports activities and cultural interests. Are you available at all or always “busy?”
• Your web reputation establishes you in the cloud. Choices include websites, blogs, list serves and social media. Maintain a professional presence in each of these areas and follow Title 7, Information about Legal Services, of the Rules of Professional Conduct, as well as relevant WSBA Advisory Opinions.
• Your street reputation establishes how you are perceived by vendors and staff. Your street reputation describes your office and how you handle the management of your practice, such as timely payment of rent or bills. Other examples are your level of professionalism and respect when communicating with your staff, non-monetary fringe benefits such as staff scheduling flexibility, and, of course, your management of anger and how you communicate reprimands.
All of these reputations influence whether you are perceived as a lawyer whom other lawyers want to know.
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