Oscar Michelen

Preparing to Network

This episode focuses on the importance of networking which both hosts feel is the lifeblood to developing a vibrant and successful practice. They discuss what networking is and how they became involved with it. The hosts talk about how it is vital to engage in networking to develop your practice and referral sources.

Episode transcript


INTRO:                      Welcome to Reboot Your Law Practice: two lawyers, a podcast, and a plan to help any solo or small firm, hosted by Scott Limmer and Oscar Michelen.

OSCAR:                      Hey everybody. Welcome back to Reboot Your Law Practice. I’m Oscar Michelen.

SCOTT:                      And I’m Scott Limmer. Thanks for joining us again on our latest episode. So we wanted to talk to you, go over a little bit about what we’ve gone over before and talk about where we’re heading. If you’ve listened to the first couple of podcasts, you know that we talked about the changing phase of the legal business, how you must take charge of your law practice, and how you must be authentic and you must give value to your associates, to your clients, to anyone. The question is now, what’s the next step, Oscar? What do you have to do now to look at your business and start to bring in some income?

OSCAR:                      Right, so we’ve talked a little bit about that in the sense that you have to start thinking about an area of law that you want to try and develop, how to increase the current areas of law that you practice in, what is the authentic thing about yourself that you think you can promote and what is an area of law that you think you could provide that add value to your clients. Once you do that, you take those initial steps, and in our next podcast after this one, we’ll be talking about how you develop your online presence to follow that authenticity and that value that you’re going to try to promote. But now, we’re going to be talking about how do you prepare yourself to go out there into the public and begin developing business through a topic that we’re going just label as networking but is more than just the average thought of what that word entails. So Scott, what do you mean by networking?

SCOTT:                      Networking is really the life blood of your business, making connections with professionals in your area and other areas as possible referral sources are the most important thing you can do for your practice, and to be able to do that, you have to prepare yourself to go out and network with people. You can’t just jump in and do it and say, “Hey, look at me. I’m an attorney. I’m here.” You really have to prepare yourself and look at yourself, and see if there are any changes or if you can make any evaluations of yourself and see what can be changed.

OSCAR:                      Like a personal inventory.

SCOTT:                      Right.

OSCAR:                      What are the strengths that you need to develop, what are some weaknesses that you need to work on when you’re in a public setting, when you’re communicating about your practice and about yourself. What are the things you should be bringing up, what are the things that you should be focusing on, and how can you segue conversations into the area of law that you want to develop and your practice in general. The tough thing is, I’ve talked about this with fellow brothers and sisters of the bar and those conversations, in a great part, led to this podcast but a lot of people come back to me and say, “That’s just not me.” I’m not a shocker. I’m not a salesman.”

SCOTT:                      I can’t sell myself. It’s not what I do. I’m a lawyer.

OSCAR:                      “That’s not why I went into law.” What do we say to someone who says, “I’m not a salesman, I can’t do that?”

SCOTT:                      I don’t want to come across as sounding too harsh because this is a podcast for lawyers to listen to and learn and maybe form a community around, trying to better yourself and your practice, but the answer to that question, Oscar, is if you don’t want to do that, you need to find something else to do. If you own your own practice, you own a business…

OSCAR:                      That’s you not being harsh.

SCOTT:                      This is me not being harsh. You own a business. We’ve talked about this before. There was that unwritten social contract that we went to law school and we deserve a career, that we deserve to make a certain amount of money and be happy in our lives. It’s all out the window. It’s a new ballgame. Listen, no matter what you do, you’re always selling, whether you’re an associate of the firm, selling partners on the job that you are doing or clients on certain things, or if you are a solo, you’re always selling people on something no matter what you do. Whether you’re a salesman, whether you are a PTA president, putting forth an agenda, it doesn’t matter. That’s the life blood of what people do. Again, bringing it back to the practice, you have to get clients. That’s why you became a lawyer. You became a lawyer to make money.

OSCAR:                      Let me stop you there because the answer also is if that’s not what you’re willing to do, then you need to find another way to practice law. Find a firm, find a business you can go inhouse, become an associate at a larger firm. There’s nothing wrong with that but this podcast and this series is specific for people who want to develop their own small firm practice or their own solo practice, and there is no way to do that without selling yourself, promoting yourself, not through advertising necessarily but through networking, referring.

SCOTT:                      And I think there are probably a lot of people willing to do this but they are not really sure what we’re even talking about in some sense. That’s one of the reasons we’re doing the podcast is to try to give you steps that you can take to kind of enter this new world of networking and business relations.

OSCAR:                      Right. We’re not talking about going out there and getting a commercial for late night television. It sounds like you’re selling used cars. We don’t want to be that lawyer either and we don’t want you to be that lawyer. We’re talking about having confidence in yourself, going out there and meeting people who are going to refer you business, people that you already know as of right now, people that you have access to, and people that you’re going to meet through selecting various different networking groups, which we’ll talk about later. But before you go to these groups, before you start looking for the right place to go to promote yourself and your practice, you need to get yourself ready to do that and make sure that they are not wasted opportunities when you finally find yourself in that situation.

SCOTT:                      That’s exactly right. You want to evaluate every part of yourself that you can. Talk to close friends, talk to close associates. Really take a good look at the way you come across to people. You think that you’re joking a lot but maybe people aren’t taking it the right way. Maybe there are parts of your personality that can be tweaked a little bit. Are you a complainer? I always talk about the guy that comes to the networking meeting at 7 o’clock and he walks in and he starts complaining about how early it is. Nobody wants to hang out with that guy.

OSCAR:                      Right.

SCOTT:                      You want to be positive.

OSCAR:                      The other thing that’s important is to remember, if you’re going to these events, if you’re going specifically to a networking event and there’s more to networking than just actually going to a networking event, but if you’re going to one of those events or one of those groups on a regular basis, remember, that’s why those other people are there too. That should instill in you some confidence to say, “Well, I’m not good at social situations.” Maybe that but you’re going to a situation where people are expecting to hear about who you are, what you’re practice is, what kind of business you can refer to them, what kind of business they can refer to you. So you’re going to be preaching to the choir, so the first thing that you have to realize is that. Be confident because if you’re going to be in a good group, everyone is going to be there to try to promote and refer business back to each other.

SCOTT:                      Right. It is, it’s a confidence thing. It’s having the positive attitude. The reason we’re saying, Oscar, that someone should do an analysis of themselves and look at their strong points and weak points and see if they could change certain things, it is because you really want to put your best foot forward when you’re talking to people, whether you’re talking to a parent at a child sporting event or whether you see someone in the bagel place in the morning, if somebody asks what you do, you want to tell them with confidence, “I’m a criminal defense attorney. I’m a personal injury attorney. I’m a bankruptcy attorney and I handle these types of cases.” You want to put it forth with confidence so people will say, “Hey, I remember that guy. I’m going to call him.”

OSCAR:                      Yes, should that type of matter arise. The other thing is that when we speak about networking, you’re doing PTA meetings. It’s something you’re doing, well maybe you’re coaching little league. It’s also something you’re doing while you’re sitting in a courthouse waiting for your case to be called.

SCOTT:                      So like I said before, you’re always selling. You’re always putting forth yourself to someone whether it’s in court, whether it’s at the PTA, wherever it is. You’re always selling.

OSCAR:                      You always have your law practice on top of your mind and try to make it so that folks hear what it is that you’re doing and the kind of work that you’re doing, the kind of practice that you’re developing, and find yourself in those social situations where you could talk about it without also being the guy who is constantly, you know, you don’t want to keep pushing cards in people’s hands.

SCOTT:                      Well actually Oscar, I’m going to cut you off for a second. I’m sorry. I want to clarify for a second. When I was talking “always selling,” I’m not necessarily talking about selling your practice. I’m talking about selling you. You don’t have to be talking about what you do but when you are speaking with people, the way you stand, your posture, the way you speak, looking people in the eye when you talk to them, these are all things that people take notice of and they will think about if a business opportunity comes to pass. There are people that I know that they may think they could do a good job, I’m not really sure, but their persona doesn’t inspire confidence in me and that’s what you want to inspire in people.

OSCAR:                      Right and that also means that when you’re in those situations, particularly if you’re on a board, some local not for profit organization or your little league, your PTA, your religious organization, when legal issues come up, people will look to you and you have to think about how you reflect back to them when they either need legal advice for those groups or even just don’t even see a legal issue that arises. You want to be able to promote yourself, come forward, and say, “Hey, here’s the situation. Here’s something that I had experience with that I could help with,” and people will say, “Oh, I didn’t know you did that kind of work” or “I didn’t realize even that you were in that field.” That’s the perfect example of the kind of non-networking networking situation that I’m speaking of. Think about how you want to present yourself. Think about stories that are applicable.

SCOTT:                      They put you in a good light. Things that you’ve done, interesting things with your private life that or your professional life that you can talk to people about.

OSCAR:                      Right. The more practice, experience that you could put forth obviously, the better, the more of a professional story you could tell as opposed to some other kind of success that you may want to bring up in your personal life, the better, but particularly if you’re a young lawyer and you don’t have that, then there might be other points in your life, either in college or in law school that you led and did something positive that you can use to try to enhance the conversation and instill confidence, and that person that they are talking to someone who knows what they are doing can handle a situation. That’s what people want when they go to lawyers, folks. They want somebody who is going to handle the situation, resolve their problem, and ease their worry, and you need to come across as the type of person that can do that.

SCOTT:                      Listen everyone, it might be unfair. It may be unfair that we’re saying, “Oh, you have to be outgoing to bring in business.”

OSCAR:                      That you have to put yourself forward.

SCOTT:                      Right.

OSCAR:                      That you have to promote yourself or at least try to keep people thinking of you at the top of your mind. I was at a political fund raiser the other day and I was one of the hosts of the fundraiser, walking around, whatever. There were some people there that I have actually brought to the fundraiser and we were just talking. They knew me from a different place. They didn’t know me from my legal practice. They knew me from my personal life. Talking to one of the guys I knew, he was in finance, he brought up a situation that some of his finance clients were having a problem and he was regretting that there was a breakup of his business that gave him work. I said, “That’s hard to hear. I know what that’s like because I see it all the time with my clients. We have these great businesses and you can’t save them from each other. You have to go into this business divorce.” He said, “Really? You do that kind of work?” I said, “Oh yeah. That’s a primary of my practice.” He said, “Oh. Well listen, I’m going to give one of the guys your name because he’s looking for a lawyer and I don’t anybody to refer him to.”

I never was looking for that opportunity. I was not there specifically to network. I obviously knew that I was bringing people who had business and had access to capital and that type of thing to the fundraiser, but I listen to what the guy was saying. I created an opportunity and said, “Hey, listen. I do that kind of work,” and it came back to me, but before that, he had seen me at other situations. We were on the board of an organization together which is how we know each other so that he was confident when I said I do that kind of work that I was the type of person he could refer his client to with confidence.

SCOTT:                      So two things about this story you just told, Oscar. One is that I think it’s evident that if you were the type of person who wasn’t social, wasn’t interested in talking to others, you would have sat down at this event somewhere with maybe some people that you knew and wouldn’t have the conversation with this guy. Because you were selling yourself a little bit because you were being social, you probably or hopefully got a client or at least a referral partner for the future.

OSCAR:                      That’s right. Not only that, one other thing, you have to be listening.

SCOTT:                      Right.

OSCAR:                      If you’re not engaged, if you’re there looking at your watch and saying, “You know what, I had a long day. It’s 7 o’clock. When are we going to wrap this thing up?” Your face is going to show that but you’re going to lose the opportunity. You got to get the energy to be engaged. It’s because I was listening to him and said, “Let me speak to him. He came here, that’s great. Let me just talk to him,” and we started a conversation but you’ve got to be engaged and listen to what they are saying and then react to what they are talking to you about.

SCOTT:                      I’d like to respond to you, Oscar, right now.

OSCAR:                      Okay.

SCOTT:                      As the Scott Limmer of February 2014 if I could.

OSCAR:                      Okay.

SCOTT:                      The Scott Limmer of February 2014 would have said to you, “Listen, I’m uncomfortable in social situations. I, maybe get a little anxiety, maybe I don’t feel as self confident as I would like to, and I don’t see any way that I’m going to be able to go to bar functions or this function or that function and engage people and really talk about what I do and feel comfortable. I don’t know what to do. What should I do?”

OSCAR:                      But that was only a year ago. Seriously, how did you turn yourself around to be the type of person that could do something like that if that was the way you’re thinking only a year ago?

SCOTT:                      You know, I’ve talked about my practice needing change and a reboot, for a lack of a better word. My practice needed a reboot and I needed the reboot. Listen, I was always the kind of person, ask any of my old friends, I’m the guy that’s really not that interested in doing anything. I’m not going to a social event to just talk to people. Hell, ask my wife, I would say to my wife on vacation, “Why are you going to talk to those people? You’re never going to see them again.” I might have even said that before but I was not someone who would go to a conference and want to engage people and talk about my business or myself. I realize it was because I lacked self confidence, I lacked self esteem, I needed to work on myself and I did. I read a lot of books, I learned a lot of things about human behavior, about the inner workings of business. I worked out in my head situations of talking to people in networking situations.

There’s this website called DivorceDiscourse.com. It’s an attorney, Lee Rosen. He does, it’s mostly a marketing and practice management podcast, but he wrote a book about networking. I read this book right before I went to a conference last year and it talked about the pain of social situations and the question is, is the pain of the social situation, is it greater than the pain that you’ll feel if you don’t make money in your practice, if you don’t bring in clients? I read that and I was like, “Wait a second. That makes sense.” I’m sitting here going, “Oh I don’t want to talk to this person. I don’t want to talk to that person. I’m too socially inept or whatever.” I was allowing that pain to just overwhelm me.

OSCAR:                      To hold you back.

SCOTT:                      Yeah, completely.

OSCAR:                      That’s right. It’s like saying, “I’m a pickle salesman but you know what, I don’t want to sell pickles.”

SCOTT:                      Right.

OSCAR:                      Who told you to become a pickle salesman?

SCOTT:                      Exactly.

OSCAR:                      You have to recognize the business model that you’re in now because of the nature of the law practice. I came around to it the other way. I’m the type of guy that my wife, I mean, you should vacation with my wife because I’m the guy who is going over to the other people and saying, “Hey, we’re having dinner tonight with these people.” “No, we’re not. I don’t want to be on that.”

SCOTT:                      Now, I’m the guy on the cruise who asks for the table for two.

OSCAR:                      Exactly right. I didn’t have the problem. What I had the problem with was I was fortunate enough that after leaving the government and going into practice, I joined a very small practice that ended up being in a growing field and the work came easy. So then the bottom dropped out and I had to reboot also, so I had the personality necessary, I just never had to do it before. I had no idea how to do it and all of a sudden say, “I better go out there and start thinking about a way to develop business because I never had to do it before.” People can’t get me to shut up talking about my practice and what I do but I had to put myself in the right situations.

It didn’t’ work at first because I did it in a very scattershot approach. I tried to do everything. I didn’t really step back and think about what area of law do I want to practice, how do I want to put myself out there, where are the right situations to develop the type of practice that I want? More importantly, I then had to start changing the public things that people saw about me, which we’ll talk about next week also. It was a process. Whether you’re personality is shy and uncomfortable in social situations, whether your personality is outgoing and garoless, and you’re willing to go out there and do it, you still have to come back and take the first step of analyzing yourself and saying, “This is my strong points, these are my weak points. This is where I think I could put forward but what kind of business do I want to go after and what are the situations I could put myself in to help generate that business. Self awareness and practice awareness as well, and I think Scott said something that was very important which is believe it or not, this can be taught.

SCOTT:                      Absolutely.

OSCAR:                      You can learn this. It started with a genius of a guy that’s kind of a cliché, Dale Carnegie.

SCOTT:                      Right.

OSCAR:                      How to Win Friends and Influence People. That still works.

SCOTT:                      Which I read when I was kid, by the way, and thought it was nonsense. I was like, “I don’t get it. This made no sense to me.”

OSCAR:                      Yeah, you didn’t have to generate business.

SCOTT:                      Right.

OSCAR:                      Your Frosted Flakes came from mom and dad.

SCOTT:                      Exactly. I went to college, I went to law school, I got a job. It was easy.

OSCAR:                      Right but there’ a reason why that is time tested. There’s another guy with a funny name that people referred to, I’ve never read him but Zig Ziglar. There are guys out there who have analyzed this and written a couple of good books. You can get them online.

SCOTT:                      I probably read a good 30 books in the last year or so and I could certainly put some of those online. You know what, if you’ll look at the summary of this week’s podcast, I’ll put the link on it.

OSCAR:                      So we’ll put some links to some good starting places for you to get an idea of how to go about this because you have to practice it. You have to think about it. It’s not just, ”I’m going to go to the 7 AM breakfast and hangout, and hopefully someone needs a lawyer in the field of law that I’d like to practice in.”   That isn’t going to work. It requires you to really think about what you’re going to talk about, how are you going to talk about it. Now once you start going regularly, let’s talk about a special networking group, once you go to a regular networking group, you’re going to see, it’s going to be a lot easier because you’re going to know who the other players are, you’re going to know the kind of business that they have, and you’re going to start thinking about ways you can refer business to them.

SCOTT:                      I’m going to suggest again as I have before, local networking groups for someone who has never networked, and I’m saying from experience because it helped me, is a great way to start. A lot of local business guys willing to explain to you how it works, meet with you, talk to you about their businesses. It’s a real good low level way to kind of come out of your shell and experiment with what you want to say about yourself.

OSCAR:                      Right. Another good place that I would recommend is your local Chamber of Commerce. People don’t use that enough. Take a look at it. Put yourself out to the business owner in that area. There are going to be other lawyers there. You’re not going to be the only lawyer there but look for opportunities to maybe talk about a unique field of practice. See what other areas of law the other lawyers there do practice. Find yourself some space in between. That’s going to be a little bit of a longer build as people get to know you there. You start to more events, you start maybe getting on some committees and all of that.   That’s another good idea to start.

SCOTT:                      And the Chamber of Commerce is very interesting. I just joined my local one a couple of months ago. It’s different than going to meetings with lawyers. With lawyers, everyone is a lawyer. Here, everybody is a business owner and everybody is friendly. They are looking for new business and you will be treated not as just an attorney but as a business owner, and people will look to you to see what you can do for them, what you’re offering. What services you give to see how they might refer business to you.

OSCAR:                      Right, in order for you to send it back to them.

SCOTT:                      Right.

OSCAR:                      But again, it’s like as we talked about in the beginning, the people in that room are going to be of the same mindset as you are.

SCOTT:                      Exactly.

OSCAR:                      So just relax, everyone is in it for the same thing to try to try to grow and develop business, make some relationships, some friendships, and look for referral partners, yes, and at the same time also, but the way, help develop your community and find out what the needs of your community are, etc. There are lots of positive things that come off of that as well. So we gave you lots to think about today.

SCOTT:                      I just want to touch on before we go, we talked about being shy, having lack of self esteem, not knowing how to act in certain social situations, these, like we talked about before, these are things you can learn. These are things you can practice. It’s a little bit of a pet peeve of mine. Baseball players practice all year round and getting shape for their games. Singers and guitarists practice all year round. My kids, they practice karate. They go to school, they do things. If these are problems that you’re having, learn. Take some time, take an hour a night. Read a book about better self-esteem. Read a book about learning how your mind works. Use the time that you have to help yourself be a better business person.

OSCAR:                      Right and there are lots of places like we said that you could look at our website that you can go for that help, but it is. It’s going to take work, folks.

SCOTT:                      But you have to be willing to do it. Nobody gets anywhere without practicing. Find me somebody who has become a great athlete or a great business person, who didn’t work hard at what they were doing to learn all facets of what they are doing. If you have your own practice, you must learn…

OSCAR:                      The business element of it.

SCOTT:                      Right.

OSCAR:                      And the way to promote the business.

SCOTT:                      The social business element of it.

OSCAR:                      Exactly. Well especially in this current market more so than ever, it’s funny, we keep using the word “practice” in law practice, right? That’s what it means. Think about the way you used to handle cases when you first came out of law school and the way you are now. It’s the same thing. You’re not going to be that good if you’re not comfortable doing it the first few times that you go into a group. It’s going to develop, but if you go and train yourself ahead of time by looking at some of these pointers that experts in the field have put out there for you, you’re going to be the much stronger position and more confident when you do go out there.

So we gave you lots to think about today. We’d like you to think about three things that you could do to promote yourself, improve yourself in those social situations, what you can do to better that, maybe pick one of these books to read a couple of chapters on, and start to develop a plan for yourself when you go out networking. In the meantime, if you have any questions, comments, or like to reach out to us, you can reach me at Oscar@LawReboot.com.

SCOTT:                      You can email me at Scott@LawReboot.com or you can call at 516-900-4842 leave is a message with a comment, a question, or suggest a topic for us to talk about in a future show. See everyone next week.

OSCAR:                      See you next week.

OUTRO:                     This has been Reboot Your Law Practice with Oscar Michelen and Scott Limmer.

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