It was 1976. After five years practicing law on active duty in the United States Air Force, I excitedly began my life in private practice as a general commercial litigator in what was by 1976 standards a medium sized firm in Roanoke, Virginia.

I was open to just about any idea that would help me become successful. So, when I was advised that I “needed” to join the North Roanoke Rotary Club, I jumped at the chance. After attending several of the weekly dinner meetings and participating in the club’s bingo fundraising events, I discovered no one in the club was a potential client or referral source.

By 1978, I had figured out I was not making the progress I had hoped as a general commercial litigator, so I narrowed my focus to government contracts and construction contracts. I became active in the state and local division of the ABA’s Public Contract Law Section.

By 1980 I had been on a task force that helped redraft Virginia’s Public Contract Law Statutes. That year I was asked to speak at the ABA Annual Meeting in New Orleans. After speaking on state highway construction contract disputes, I realized that not one person in the audience was a potential client or referral sources. The best I could hope from that audience was to be a mail drop if any lawyer had a case in my area.

Photo taken after a presentation to National Asphalt Pavement Association

In 1981, I spoke at the Virginia Road and Transportation Builders’ Association Annual Meeting. (I still have my presentation materials). An executive from the American Road and Transportation Builders’ Association heard me speak and asked me to speak at their Contractor’s Meeting the next summer. Executives from other state chapters heard me speak that summer and all of a sudden I was speaking to contractors all over the country.

What does my story have to do with you? I hope the title of this post gave it away. You have to hang out where your clients and referral sources hang out.

Where do your clients and referral sources hang out? What organizations do they belong to? What meetings do they go to? What are they reading?

Hang out in those places.

  • This blog post was very helpful. I tend to be a social butterfly and want to attend everything. But I’ve learned that I have to be selective and focus my energies on a few select groups that pay off the most. I thought about joining the local rotary club. I regularly attend local bar association meetings that are close by and convenient. I have met a ton of people, but I have only gotten a few referrals. I now realize that I could be making better, more focused choices, that will enhance my bottom line.

  • Cordell
    I was a litigator for 14 years, and before that in sales and before that engineering.
    Of course, whilst this is not the typical route in the UK for a career in law, nevertheless it has stood me in good stead in dealing with people at all levels. Although I specialised in a number of areas, I never wanted to get so deep into an area that I lost out on the diversity of clients and work that I cherished. Of course my construction colleagues had their sector nailed down but I just wouldn’t have got the same buzz. Oh sure it is a bit harder – let’s face it no one wants to talk to a litigator – but I was always amazed where my referrals came from. It is horses for courses. As to social media I would focus on my sneezers and not just my clients. Yes some industries will be harder but social media will have a part to play even if not the equivalent of the face to face meeting.
    Thanks for posting this up.