This post of mine originally appeared as an article at Slaw, Canada’s leading online law magazine.

Network through the Internet

Image c/o Luke Legay

Relationships and a strong word of mouth reputation are how lawyers get their work. Always has been. Always will be. Ask the best lawyers in your firm. Ask the lawyers in your community who have the best business. Ask the managing partners leading successful law firms. Ask the chief marketing officers of major firms. All of them will tell you that a lawyer’s best work comes from relationships and a strong word of mouth reputation. All of them will tell also tell you that relationships and a strong word of mouth reputation are the result of networking. The Internet doesn’t change that. The Internet is a relationship and reputation accelerator. Networking online empowers lawyers to build relationships and enhance their reputation at an accelerated rate. Reid Hoffman (@quixotic), co-founder of LinkedIn and an early investor in Facebook addresses the fear of networking many lawyers have in an article in CNN Money.
Many people are turned off by the topic of networking. They think it’s slimy, inauthentic. Picture the consummate networker: a high-energy fast talker who collects as many business cards as he can and attends mixers sporting slicked-back hair. Or the overambitious college kid who frantically e-mails alumni, schmoozes with the board of trustees, and adds anyone he’s ever met as an online friend. Such people are drunk on networking Kool-Aid — and are looking at a potentially nasty hangover.

Luckily for lawyers, networking doesn’t have to be like that. Traditional networking is all about relationships.

Old-school networkers are transactional. They pursue relationships thinking solely about what other people can do for them. Relationship builders, on the other hand, try to help others first. They don’t keep score. And they prioritize high-quality relationships over a large number of connections.

The keys to building relationships through networking, whether face to face or through the Internet, are two-fold per Hoffman.

  1. See the world from the person’s perspective. It’s only when you put yourself in the other person’s shoes that you begin to develop an honest connection.
  2. Think about how you can collaborate with and help the other person, rather than thinking about what you can get. You need not be so saintly that a self-interested thought never crosses your mind, but your first move should always be to help.

Rather than continuing to focus on the widely traveled means of online business development such as websites, newsletters, alerts, and articles, lawyers and law firms would be better served by focusing their efforts on networking through the Internet. What to use for networking through the Internet?

  • LinkedIn. Not just as your profile of record that’s more important than the bio on your websites, but as a networking arena.
  • RSS reader. How can you network with others online if you cannot hear what others are talking about?
  • Blog. There is simply no better way for a lawyer to grow professionally and from a business development standpoint than to blog in an engaging fashion.
  • Twitter. In addition to Twitter possibly being the single biggest personal branding tool since the television, Twitter provides lawyers a powerful information network and relationship building tool.
  • Facebook. Too many lawyers divide the online world into personal and professional. Networkers know you can’t do it. Facebook enables lawyers to enhance their relationships with close business associates.
  • Google+. No one has a firm grip on where Google+ is headed, but their is no question it’s here to stay and is going to influence search and discovery of information and people. Lawyers would be well served to experiment with Google+.

These six tools are all about networking through the Internet. Networking that enables a lawyer to build relationships and enhance their reputation. Networking online certainly does not replace face to face networking and meetings. Networking online accelerates the opportunities for face to face networking and meeting with prospective clients. I meet a hundred times the people I want to meet for business development reasons as other business people do. The reason is that I network through the Internet. The same is the case for lawyers who do so. Now that the Internet has arrived, don’t change course. Don’t leave your common sense at the doorway. Go with what brung you. Networking to build relationships and a strong reputation. Unfortunately, networking through the Internet is not something which many lawyers and law firm business development people understand. Nor does networking through the Internet come naturally. That’s why law firms ought to forgo emphasis on Internet marketing that doesn’t foster networking and relationships (think websites), and put their money into educating their lawyers, business development professionals and their marketing/communications professionals as to what networking through the Internet is all about. By doing so lawyers and law firms will harness the power of the Internet to bring in work through the tried and true method of relationships and a strong word of mouth reputation.