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A Lawyer's Guide to Networking Events in a Virtual World

Updated: Nov 24, 2020

By Jaimie B. Field.

In March 2020, the world went into quarantine. Not just the United States, not just Europe, not just Asia, but the entire world. And because we were not allowed to go out of our houses unless we were “essential workers,” all in person-networking events, conferences, lunches, golf events, and happy hours ceased to exist.

For many attorneys, the only business development activities they had been doing is attending live networking functions, conferences, or meeting people one-on-one. When the in-person world was cut off from them because they were required to work from home, many did not know what do to. And so, like many of us who when we don’t know what to do, they did nothing.

In a study conducted by Acritas, a legal research company, about Lawyer Productivity during the pandemic, and written about by Jen Dezso, Vice President, Acritas USA, she stated:

“When it comes to remote working, 77% of stand-out lawyers say the number one challenge to the firm’s bottom line is difficulty in developing business. Even in the best of conditions — which these are not — lawyers too often struggle to engage in business development conversations with clients. Many say this has been compounded today because lawyers are unable to leverage networking events, working lunches, and other in-person meetings.”

Since the pandemic began, I have been working with my clients, explaining that now is not the time to stop doing business development activities even though we have been working from home. And, because 7 months into this worldwide lockdown in which we are not sure when we will be able to freely attend in-person events again, you cannot continue to ignore networking if you want to build a book of business or continue to create relationships. You have to learn how to do it - virtually.

Besides, when the world does reopen fully, I believe that many will not only continue to work from home but that they will continue to use virtual means to create and build relationships. And this is the essence of Rainmaking.

Before I get into how to network virtually, I’d like to provide one of my favorite definitions of a network and networking because when you understand the meaning of these words, you will have an easier time becoming a master networker whether in-person or virtually.

In 1982, John Naisbitt, in his book Megatrends, said: “Networks are people talking to each other, sharing ideas, information, and resources.”

He also went on to say that: “ . . . networking is a verb, not a noun. The important part is not the network, the finished product, but the process of getting there – the communication that creates the linkages between people and clusters of people.”

There are a couple of things that I want to point out about this definition - the part of the definition that explains that networking is about the “communications that create the linkages between people and clusters of people.”

This is one of the traits of great Rainmaking. Real rainmakers know it’s about creating these links between themselves and prospects, clients, and referrals sources.

I also want to point out a keyword in that definition: “Sharing.”

Networking and the networks you build are not one-way streets. You cannot go to your network and ask for help without being willing or able to offer help as well.

One of the laws that many attorneys never learned is called the Law of Reciprocity. The Law of Reciprocity says that people always try to pay you back for anything that you do, either to or for them. In a positive sense, it means that whenever you do something nice for another person, you create within that other person a sense of obligation. Since no one likes to be under an obligation to another, the other person will do everything possible to free themselves from this sense of obligation by paying you back, usually by giving you far more than you contributed originally. Think about it, when you get a gift out of the blue or if someone picks up the check, you feel obligated to do something for them as well.

In fact, the more you can give, the more you will get back. This technique is well written about in Go-Givers Sell More by Bob Burg and John David Mann.

And you don’t always have to give referrals – you can give other things, support, time, information. When you give without the expectation of receiving, you will get so much more than you can imagine.

Networking Is a Skill

Let's start with a great fact for all of the attorneys out there who hate networking because they have not been successful at it: networking is a skill.

The definition of a skill is “proficiency, facility, or dexterity that is acquired or developed through training or experience.”

What this means is that this is a skill that can be learned. And for those who are fairly successful at it, you can become even more so with practice. However, the one thing that this definition does leave off is the fact that skills can only be mastered through practice - deliberate, focused practice.

But, how do you get to practice when you cannot go to in-person networking events? Therein lays the biggest misconception about networking that exists. You don’t have to go to in-person networking events, coffees, lunches, golf events, etc. to be networking. Most people think of networking as big events where lots of people are handing out business cards to one another to create new business for their firms.

Networking is any time you meet with another person – even one on one. This could be in-person or online in social networking venues such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc. And you could meet via telephone or a virtual platform.

Networking is the art and skill of creating relationships and then being able to leverage those relationships into business opportunities

No matter what type of law you practice, no matter what position you are in in your firm, whether you are the Managing partner, Midlevel Attorney, or Associate if your networking has stopped because you cannot leave your house, you are doing your business development activities a disservice.

Virtual Networking Events

Since the pandemic began, virtual networking events and industry conferences have been taking the place of in-person events. These are events that are being held on various platforms like Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Go-to-Meeting, Teoh, Remo, and a plethora of other platforms that keep popping up.

You can find these events by searching online or asking your colleagues. Use Linked In’s search function and you will find that 1,466 groups have a virtual networking component. You can go to the industry associations in which you are a member and see if any virtual networking events are being held. And you can search Event Brite or which has a list of thousands of virtual networking events, in all different industries, available to attend. You can even create your own networking events by inviting people to join you in talking about how to grow your various businesses

For example, if you are in a larger firm that has different practice areas, then ask a few of your colleagues to meet, one from each practice area, at least once per month (but preferably once a week as you will find you will grow your respective books of business faster), to discuss business development ideas, which of your clients may need the others’ services and vice versa, and just to encourage each other.

If you have never attended a virtual networking event, you usually start by joining a large virtual room – you know what this looks like – the thumbnail pictures of all of the attendees. And then the host will create “breakout” rooms where you can meet and introduce yourself to a smaller number of people at a time.

If the event is scheduled for 90 minutes (which, from my experience, has been the norm), the host of the event will usually send you to 3 different breakout rooms during the event where you can meet a manageable number of people.

There are also industry conferences taking place virtually. In addition to the plenary sessions which are held like webinars, there are keynote addresses, and there are opportunities to speak with the vendors and other attendees. While it does not actually reach the level of meeting someone in the hallway to chat at an in-person event, you can conduct some networking while you are attending these conferences.

During some events, particularly networking events that are not industry-focused, the host may ask you to tell the entire room what you do for a living. This is a perfect time to hone your audio business card – also known as your elevator pitch.

Audio Business Card

Your audio business card is a very short oral description that answers the question: “So what do you do for a living?”

At most, you have about a minute or two to convey what you do and with whom you are seeking to do business. Try to do it in one or two sentences that are interesting and memorable.

What happens is that most attorneys say: “I’m a lawyer.”

The problem is that more than 1.3 million people in the United States can say this, and many more across the world. Even if you narrow it down by using a practice area, you are still grouped with a whole lot of people who practice the same area as you.

Either way, you will stop a conversation cold because people will already assume that they know what you do based on their biases (both good and bad).

You have to find a way to introduce yourself that answers these questions:

  • Who am I?

  • What do I do?

  • Who are my ideal clients?

And you have to find a way to do it memorably – using your personality.

When I am asked the “what do you do question,” I say: “I am a Rainmaking Trainer and Coach. I teach lawyers in firms with 50 or more attorneys marketing and business development skills so they can build big books of business ethically. And the keyword is ethically.”

To deconstruct the above - it tells people who I am (Rainmaking Trainer and Coach), what I do (teach marketing and business development skills to help build big books of business ethically), and who my ideal clients are (lawyers and law firms of 50 or more attorneys).

But more important than introducing yourself, you need to find out about the people with whom you are networking.

Networking Best Practices

Networking should never be about you. It is always about them. So learn to ask questions and practice active listening skills.

Most people use their ears to hear. Hearing is a biomechanical attribute that most people with two ears can do. However, usually, when the other person is speaking, we are often just waiting for our chance to respond – whether it is to prove what we know or just to hear ourselves talk.

Listening is an actual skill that can be learned and when used effectively creates a relationship with the speaker that can morph into business. When you really listen to others, giving them your full awareness, not allowing for any distractions to divert your attention (whether in person, on a virtual platform, or the phone) and truly understand what they are saying, they naturally will like you and trust that you can help them with their problems.

Then and only then can you respond to what they are saying. And even then, your responses should be follow up questions. The more you can get to know the person and what they need, the more likely they will become a client.

When I am at a virtual event, the first thing I do is take a screenshot of the entire group. Since most people have their name or their company on their picture, you now can have a list of the event’s participants. Sometimes, this is unnecessary because the host of the event will provide you with the list of attendees. If you are not sure, just ask the person who is designated as the host.

With this list, you can begin connecting with people on social media sites, particularly on Linked In, the world’s largest professional networking site with 660 million users in over 200 countries. The purpose of connecting with these people you have met is to continue the networking conversation, NOT to pitch them your services.

Please do not put any person you have met in a virtual networking event immediately on your email list. You must ask their permission to put them on your list. Not only because you could be violating the CAN-SPAM Act in the United States or the GDPR in Europe, but because it is not going to get you the business.

People do business with people they know, like, and trust. And people will immediately lose trust for you if you abuse the privilege of having their contact information by spamming them with information about your services.

Instead, send a “nice to have met you” email to those whom you have met, and then you can ask if they would like to be put on your newsletter list. However, it is my suggestion that you wait until you get to know your new contact better.

In most of these events, you will not be able to meet all of the participants. But, you can use social media or an email to connect with them. Send them a personal message and write “I saw that you were on the virtual networking event on (insert date), but that we didn’t get a chance to meet. Can we rectify that situation by meeting one-on-one either via telephone or via Zoom?”

You can also use social media sites to connect directly with someone with whom you can potentially do business. There is a caveat, however – again do not go onto a social media site and connect with someone and then immediately pitch your services. This is happening way too often these days and the most important thing you must understand is what I said two paragraphs ago – People do business with people they know, like, and trust. You must build trust with your prospective clients and referral sources.

You know of what I am speaking – how much do you hate it when someone you just connected with on social media sends you a private message or an email asking you to buy their services? Put yourself on the other end of the conversation and understand that the reason why this doesn’t work is that no relationship has resulted.

Furthermore, no one wakes up one day and says to themselves, “I think I’ll hire a lawyer for the heck of it.” Lawyers are hired because there is a specific need. Regardless of the practice area, whether you work in consumer law or business law, lawyers are hired because there is a necessity for your services. And so, the only way to make sure that you are the attorney that they hire for the service you provide when it becomes essential, you have to create a relationship with your prospective clients and referral sources.

Relationships = rainmaking.

Follow Up

Regardless of how you meet someone nowadays, whether it is that you connected on social media or that you’ve attended a virtual conference or virtual networking event, the most important aspect is to follow up. Invite the person you met to a virtual one-on-one meeting or telephone call and learn everything you can about them. You can even be creative – send the person a gift certificate for one of the meal delivery services and ask them to join you for a “virtual lunch.”

The most important thing to understand is that following up doesn’t mean pitching your services over and over again – that’s what sleazy salespeople do. It means keeping in touch in meaningful ways that will benefit the person with whom you are trying to create a relationship.

  • Introduce them to a potential client for their business,

  • Provide information to them that they need,

  • Send an article that is of interest to them,

  • Invite them to a webinar or a different

  • virtual networking event in which they would be interested.

By the way, you should also contact your current and former clients and renew the relationships with them. You should be calling them and personally talking about how the pandemic is affecting them and see if you can be of any assistance, even if it is just lending an ear. Your clients (both former and current) just want to know that you care about them, that they are not just a billable hour.

Notice it’s all about them.

Stop selling (i.e. pitching your services) and start finding a way to help your former, current and prospective clients in a way that will continue to grow your relationships. For Rainmaking Success, you must create relationships. And nothing creates relationships more than networking – whether one on one, in large events or online.


About the Author

Jaimie B. Field is known as The-Rain-Maker. For close to two decades, she has been motivating and teaching attorneys how to ethically get new clients and more business. Jaimie has helped her clients grow their books of business by 125% and more. She hosts Rainmaking Seminars, teaches Ethics CLEs, conducts workshops at law firms, and coaches lawyers and law firms on how to obtain more business.