I’ve written before about the value of strategic networking as a business development tool and also about how so many of us get stuck in “echo chamber” networks of people who are exactly like us.  So today, I’m going to challenge everyone to start thinking outside your comfortable box to identify networking opportunities that will actually expand your referral potential and eventually bring you in some breathing – and, hopefully, paying – clients.

To start, let’s use an hypothetical example: say you’re an Intellectual Property lawyer in Pittsburgh but you’ve also done M & A work, and a little Venture Capital stuff, too – a good symbiotic mix of practice areas.

Now I think we’d all agree that Pittsburgh isn’t usually ranked in the top ten American regions for innovation and entrepreneurship.  Entrepreneur Magazine (citing research by Engine) didn’t even rank Pittsburgh in the top 25 – Ames, IA was ranked, but not Pittsburgh.

But did you know that Pittsburgh has Carnegie Mellon University which is home to 118 research institutes and centers, which help launch 15 to 20 new start-ups a year?  Pittsburgh also has a tech start-up accelerator, AlphaLab; the Idea Foundry that provides start-up business advice; and The Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse which focuses its entrepreneurial assistance on companies developing medical devices, therapeutics, biotech services and health information technology.  Who knew???

Let’s go back to our Pittsburgh lawyer and find out where he probably networks the most:  the Allegheny Bar Association (of course); if he’s really a woman, the Women’s Bar Association of Western Pennsylvania; maybe the PICPA (Pennsylvania Institute of CPA’s); maybe the “Network after Work” group; or possibly the Mothers In Law networking group (if one happens to be a mom and a lawyer); and a Chamber or two.  But he’s getting down on networking – it doesn’t seem to be paying off and it takes a lot of time and money.  Boo hoo.

So where could our lawyer start going?  Here are a few suggestions:  the Allegheny Regional Investors Council; AlphaLab; American Society for Quality; Armstrong County Manufacturing Consortium; Association for Automatic Identification and Mobility; Innovation Works/Ben Franklin Technology Partners; MIT Enterprise Forum … and that’s just half the alphabet!  AND these are just local associations or chapters – he’s barely moved his car out of his parking space yet.

Why?  I’m not going to tell you because I said up front I was going to challenge you and here it is, gentle readers:  Comment on this blog with what advantage(s) our lawyer might get from any two of these associations.  On Friday, April 11, I’ll pick the best two responses and send each of you an Amazon gift card … although the best ones won’t have to use it to buy Networking for People Who Hate Networking.

Why do I get to pick??  Because it’s my blog.

Oh, and PS:  I’m not a Pittsburgh native and have only been to Pittsburgh once in my life on business over 20 years ago.  How did I find out all this stuff  about Pittsburgh???  15 minutes on Google.


1 reply
  1. Mike O'Horo says:

    Great post. You’re right; too many lawyers waste time hanging around lawyer groups. What % of your business actually comes from other lawyers’ referrals?

    To answer your question directly, any two of these organizations will put lawyers amid the people who actually experience the business problems or challenges that the lawyer solves, and who welcome fresh thinking about said problems and challenges. This initiates a sustainable business conversation that we now call “engagement.”

    My only other suggestion is that lawyers jettison their longstanding view of networking, i.e., meeting as many people as they can in the hopes that the network effect will lead to new business. I find that horribly inefficient, ill-matched to lawyers’ low-resilience personalities, and embracing of huge post-connection overhead. Every person you meet comes with an obligation to stay in touch in some manner. Do you really want to have to stay in touch with dozens of people about whom you can’t envision a business connection? I encourage lawyers instead to go to industry events with a specific business (not legal) problem in mind, and a hunter’s mindset, i.e., hunting for people who will acknowledge having a specific problem that drives demand for your expertise.

    At the very least, in the minds of those you meet, such an approach will associate you with the problem that drives demand for your expertise.


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