Have I ever told you I hated going to events and conferences? I only went if I was speaking, and I always tried to arrange my presentation so it was before the cocktail party.

Sometimes that worked, sometimes it didn’t. I remember when I was asked to speak at a Maryland Bar Association Annual Meeting held during the summer on the Eastern Shore. I arrived on Friday night, just in time for the cocktail party. I didn’t know any of the lawyers, so I stood with my diet coke in one hand and a vegetable plate in the other. After I finished my diet coke, I left and went to my room.

You might ask:

“Why didn’t you strike up a conversation with anyone?”

I never liked just striking up conversations with people I didn’t know. In this case, the lawyers were catching up with their friends from other parts of the state. What could I add to their conversation? Not much.

My presentation the next morning was at 8:00 AM. When I started my presentation only five people were in the audience. They told me the lawyers stay out late after the cocktail party. When I finished, there were at least 10 lawyers in the audience.

In 2019, you will likely attend one or more conferences. Like me, speaking at the Maryland Bar Association Annual Meeting, you may not know anyone at the conference. Sounds daunting, doesn’t it?

Eric Pruitt is a Birmingham, Alabama lawyer I coached 11 years ago. When I first met Eric he told me he would be attending an industry conference and asked if I had any ideas for him. I gave him some and told him to read chapters from Keith Ferrazzi’s book: Never Eat Alone. Eric did and it changed how he approached industry conferences. Here are some of Eric’s thoughts that he shared with me when I was coaching him.

Keith Farrazzi has 15 Tips for Being a Conference Commando. Some of it sounds over the top, or “dorky”, however, I decided to look at his tips with an open mind and see how I could apply his concepts as a lawyer. I found some great ideas. Here are a few of the things I’ve started doing:

  1. Develop a plan. Work to identify people you want to meet, schedule lunches/dinners/drinks/ etc. . . before the meeting. I’m attending the CMSA Annual Meeting in NY next month and have worked to schedule these events in advance and am working on identifying the “celebrity status” (people of importance in the organization – not real celebs) that I want to meet while I’m there.
  2. Work on building relationships with people, not seeing how many people I can meet and give a business card to. Focus on the person I’m talking to, don’t let my eyes wander and attempt to find the next target.
  3. Take notes on the people I meet and follow up quickly with a hand written note. Use the notes so I can make a personal connection in my follow up correspondence.
  4. Have a “what can I do for this person” attitude instead of “how can I do legal work for this person”. Helping others is a great way to build a network.
  5. If it is an industry organization that you want to become more involved in, find a non-threatening way to volunteer for tasks at the meeting. This can provide opportunities to find out about special invitation events, get to know leaders, etc. . .

These are just some quick comments. The book is packed with great insight.

What can you learn from Eric’s ideas and actually use at the next event you attend?

I was once asked:

Everyone tells you to network. Are there any new strategies for networking that actually work and don’t make you feel like a loser always trying to sell yourself?

First, I argue that networking is not for everyone, and there are many other ways to attract business. So, just because “everyone” tells you to network does not necessarily mean it is a good use of your time.

Second, I don’t think there are any new strategies. I think the old ones work.

I have never enjoyed going to what would be described as “networking” events because the perception of every one there is you are trying to sell yourself.

I remember speaking at a construction law conference several years ago. After I spoke I was surrounded by people. None of them were clients or potential clients. Instead they were all consultants trying to convince me to hire them to help on two big cases they knew I was handling. I never attended that annual conference when I was not asked to be a speaker.

I think the strategy for networking is to build trust, rapport and find common interests. You need to genuinely focus on the person you are speaking to at the time. Ask good questions (ones you have given thought to before you arrived) and then actively listen. When you part, make sure to call the person by his or her name. Finally, find some meaningful way to follow up with the person you met.

Experts tell us we will be quickly judged and you want to show you are sincere very quickly. There are many books written on this subject. If you want any titles of ones I like, send me an email.

You’ve likely read that President Clinton has an amazing ability to make a person feel like he or she is the most important person in the room. He also has an amazing memory of names and faces.

Anne Marie O’Brien is a Lamson Dugan and Murray partner I coached back in 2011. She has the same talent and people skills, and I wish I could be with her once a day just to get the energy boast.

Every quarter I met with her group in Omaha and we ate dinner together. Each time, Anne Marie asked her colleagues and me great questions that got the conversation going.

One time she asked:

What made you decide to become a lawyer?

Another time  she asked:

What was your best trial experience? What was your worst trial experience?

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She then listened as each of her colleagues (all men) answered.

Anne Marie has a gift and is able to engage people by asking questions. I wish I had her gift. Her interest and curiosity are just a part of who she is. I’m positive I would have developed more relationships with potential clients.

I always felt awkward at events, unless I had made a presentation. Because I never enjoyed networking, I decided several times in my career to simply practice. I read books and articles by networking experts and came up with some networking questions for events attended by business men and women. Here are my questions:

Networking Questions

  1. Network Question.jpgHow did you get started in_______?
  2. What made you decide to go into the ___business?
  3. What do you love/enjoy most about what you do?
  4. Tell me about your company.
  5. What separates your company from the competition?
  6. What changes are happening in your industry?
  7. How is the current economy impacting your business?
  8. Depending on the answer: Do you see things turning around for you?
  9. What do you see happening in your industry over the next few years?
  10. What are some of the projects you are currently working on?
  11. What ways does your company promote/market its products/services?
  12. Does your company use social media in its marketing efforts?
  13. What do you like to do in your spare time?
  14. Tell me about your family.
  15. What do your children enjoy doing?
  16. Where are you from originally?
  17. How long have you lived here?
  18. What do you enjoy the most about living in ___________?
  19. What can I do to help you? What can I do to help your business?

What questions would you add to this list?

If you are like me and need more help on networking, here are some books on my reading list:

How to Work a Room, Revised Edition: Your Essential Guide to Savvy Socializing by Susan RoAne

How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships by Leil Lowndes

How to Connect in Business in 90 Seconds or Lessby Nicholas Boothman

Over the years, I have been asked how to make and utilize connections at conferences.

Recently Sandy Jones-Kaminski, Chief Connecting Officer at Bella Domain Media, and author of I’m at a Networking Event–Now What???: A Guide to Making the Most Out of Any Networking Event, sent me a copy of her book. I asked her to do a guest post on this subject.

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In order to help ensure you are ready to make the most of all the opportunities to connect at your next conference, here are some of my favorite and proven networking tips:

  1. Don’t take networking too seriously. It can and should be fun. Connect with the intention of helping others rather than simply expecting to find the elusive perfect job or new client. Relax, take the pressure off yourself and focus on what you can bring to the conversation or offer in the form of contacts, knowledge or resources.
  2. Improve your outlook, and your ability to connect will change. If you have a negative outlook on networking, you’re probably sabotaging your chances at connecting with others. Dump the negative attitude, be friendly, and you might be surprised at what comes back your way. Put all the negative or disappointing encounters you may have had behind you and focus on what’s possible. As Vince Lombardi said, “It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get back up.”
  3. Take a proactive approach. Don’t wait for others to initiate conversations or hide behind your mobile device(s). You eventually have to make yourself accessible in order to meet people to know if you’ll really connect with them, and the more people you meet, the more likely you are to find the “right” people for you.
  4. Keep the alcohol consumption to a minimum if you’re at an event where it’s being served. Being relaxed is good, but having your buzz on, and then acting inappropriately, is never a good way to be remembered.
  5. Be the person to include others in the conversation. Your smile is the key to helping other people feel at ease when they try to approach or join the circle. Take that 2 seconds to say, “Please join us.” It’s a great way to create a good impression and even set an example for others. As Dale Carnegie said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
  6. Be polite and considerate. Good manners never go out of style. Don’t be guilty of what I call “the nametag scan.” Be present and mindful when interacting or trying to connect with others. And, remember, a conference is a time to be noncompetitive and social in a professional yet friendly way.
  7. Be sincere and open, and follow through on the commitments you make. Authenticity leaves a lasting impression. Even if you don’t find a way to assist one another immediately, you never know when someone might remember you and introduce you to a key new contact down the road. And if you promise to make an introduction or e-mail a link to a relevant resource, be sure to follow up after the event. Follow-up is a key factor in making a good impression and creating lasting relationships that lead to new opportunities. Remember, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” as Roman philosopher Seneca put it.
  8. Make a graceful entrance. Get comfortable with smiling in public. As mentioned earlier, your smile is the key to helping put others at ease, and when someone with a smile approaches you at a conference, don’t you often smile back in kind? As you approach, extend your hand for a handshake and introduce yourself. Open your conversation with the one sure thing you know you have in common: Find out what brought them to the event you’re both at or if this is the first time they’ve been to the conference. Another easy question is “So, Joe, what are you working on these days?” And because I approach most of my networking as community service, and like to take a pay it forward approach to it, I typically follow-up with a, “Is there anything you need help with in your world right now?”
  9. Make a graceful exit. Get comfortable with one of the many easy ways to exit a conversation. It’s always pleasant to hear, “Well, David, I enjoyed hearing about your practice (or work or goals or history with King & Spalding), but I need to find the facilities (or bar or my colleague or the event host) and I will definitely keep your card handy should I think of any ideas (or resources or clients or partners) for your project (or book or search or services).”
  10. Business cards and a pen: your conference best friends. Always have your biz card and a pen somewhere on you. And be sure to replenish your card stash each morning or during breaks. Don’t hesitate to ask others for their card when you think you might be able to offer them assistance and as a way to note their need somewhere on their card as a reminder for yourself. A lot of people believe cards have gone by the wayside, but I think this is one of the reasons they’re still relevant.

What do you think? Would these 10 tips help you at the next event you attend?

Success: For many lawyers, success is achieved when they become comfortable outside their comfort zone. Over time they succeed and wonder why the task was uncomfortable in the first place.

Want an example to make the point? Networking events are uncomfortable for many lawyers I coach, including one I coached seven years ago.

Apple Sulit-Peralejo is a Fox Rothschild Atlantic City Family Law lawyer I coached way back in 2007. She is vibrant and expressive and she lights up the room when she enters. Yet, when I first met Apple she was uncomfortable going to networking events and meeting new people.

During our coaching that changed. Apple shared with me what had happened. Here is what she said.

During my legal career, I have frequently attended bar functions, “marketing” or “networking” events. I went to these events because I needed to go, not because I wanted to go. Even though I attended many events, I never seemed to develop business contacts, clients or referral sources and for a long time I wondered why.

I finally figured out the problem during our coaching. Even though I attended many bar and community events, I only mingled with the handful of people that I already knew. I stayed mostly within my comfort zone. Even when I met someone new, there was only a brief introduction followed by brief interaction.

During our coaching sessions, I realized I was missing the opportunity to meet new people, develop new relationships and develop deeper relationships with new contacts. I realized that I had to work on meeting and developing relationships with people I did not know. That meant I needed get comfortable outside my comfort zone.

Working up my courage, I tried a new approach when I attended social events. Instead of looking for people I knew, I approached people I had not met before. As important, I also made a conscious effort to avoid “business talk” or have the “hello interaction”. I stayed away from “business talk” because it is much easier to have a conversation with someone and to get to know that person by finding something we had in common – – travel, children, sports, news, etc. I realized that the “hello interaction” is the easy thing to do, because all you do is say “hello,” make small talk, say “nice to meet you” and then move away.

At first, I felt awkward not being in my comfort zone, but it has gotten easier for me. More importantly, I no longer dread going to these events. I actually look forward to going because it is now enjoyable. The icing on the cake is that I am promoting my business while having fun!

I recently asked Apple if she had anything to add to what she told me years ago. She replied:

I have nothing to add,  except it seems like a lifetime ago since I was apprehensive about events.

The world’s greatest athletes, artists, musicians and others get better by practicing and focusing on developing skills. That is what Apple did and now she had honed those skills to such a degree that it seems like a lifetime ago when she was uncomfortable.

I know you can experience the same success. So, what can you work on to get better?

You can start your own client development networking group. That is what Holly Draper did after a presentation I gave to the Collin County Bar Association.

I wrote about the presentation in my blog: Small Firm and Solo Lawyers: This One is for You and I posted my slides from the presentation on SlideShare: Client Development for 2014 and Beyond.

Holly is a family law lawyer and writes a Family Law Blog. Holly and her husband Rob, have two children, Abby and Jake, and a golden retriever, Sophie. She is active in her church, enjoys playing and watching sports and loves to travel.


After learning about the coaching group she started, I asked Holly to share her idea with you.

Back in January, I attended the Collin County Bar Association’s “Making Your Practice Work” seminar. I’ll admit that I did not have the highest of hopes for the seminar, but everyone needs their CLE credit, right? So, I went, and boy was I glad I did!

Overall, the speakers were fantastic, with a lot of great information on such topics as using technology in the courtroom, e-filing and Cordell’s presentation on client development.

I started my own practice back in 2008, and things have gone just fine. I never had a business plan, and I puttered along with just enough business to pay the mortgage and take the occasional vacation. My business never soared, though. After listening to Cordell’s talk, I left the seminar really motivated to put a plan into action and make my business flourish.

One of the ideas that Cordell suggested was to brainstorm 25 ideas for client development. Twenty-five ideas should be a piece of cake, right? Wrong. The first five ideas came easily, but I really had to dig to get even close to 25. (I confess, I actually only came up with 22 ideas.)

Cordell’s next suggestion was to put those ideas into categories based on the amount of work required and the potential return for each idea. Several of my ideas were to get involved with various networking groups, but in the past, the return for my time just was not there. Those ideas made it to the scrap heap.

I realized that most of my quality referrals came from other attorneys, but I was not aware of any networking groups specifically for attorneys besides the bar associations. Nothing against the bar associations, but they usually have family law attorneys coming out of the woodwork. I really was not sure that would be the greatest place for me to grow my business.

Out of my brainstorming, I came up with the idea to start an attorney networking group, with the membership limited to one attorney per practice area. I put a post on Facebook to see if anyone else might be interested. Immediately, several attorneys said they wanted in.

Next, I had the receptionist at my virtual office e-mail the other attorneys at the office to see if they were interested. Sure enough, several of them were. As I put the word out through various avenues, the response was overwhelming. Attorneys loved the idea!

On March 6, we had the first meeting of North Texas Attorney Networking, and it was a smashing success!

Group members all agreed that we would get to know each other personally and professionally, and we would look to each other first when we needed to make a referral. Not only would this lead to more business for each of us, but it would also allow us to refer family, friends and clients to excellent attorneys that we actually know in other areas of law.

This idea is just in its infancy, and we are still working out the kinks and figuring out the best way to move forward. But, after just one meeting, I can confidently say that this brainstorm generated a winner!

Holly has created both a networking group and a coaching group. I am convinced that the lawyers in her group will share their successes, their challenges and their opportunities. In the process, they will get to know each other, help each other stay focused and have fun together. If you can’t participate in one of my coaching groups, try this and I will be happy to help you.



What is the this you really need to do? Let them practice the following and shoot video and then critique.

  • The first and last two minutes of a presentation.
  • A mock meeting with a potential client.
  • A mock pitch to a client.
  • You might even video a mock networking event.

Why do you REALLY need to do this? Your lawyers need to:

  • See their body language.
  • See their facial expression, what they do with their hands, whether they stand and sit straight. I can go on, but you get the idea.
  • See their energy level.
  • Help them become less fearful and nervous by practicing.

You may want to start with having your young lawyers watch this Harvard Professor Amy Cuddy Ted Video:

For several years, I worked with a large firm on an associate retreat. A firm partner and I (mostly the firm partner) created a fictitious client and factual situation. At the retreat the associates were divided into four pitch teams. During the day they prepared a presentation for the fictitious client and in the evening they socialized with each other.

In the morning of the second day each team made its presentation to a mock client team. Video was shot of each presentation. During lunch, I worked with the professional videographer to make clips of the parts of each presentation that were well done. Then, after lunch the entire group talked about the clips.

It was great fun for me and I am confident the lawyers found the experience valuable.

Recently, a lawyer I coach told me that the most important thing she got out of the client development coaching program is that she could be successful doing the client development activities that she enjoyed the most.

If you do not enjoy client development activites, you will likely not do them. You will easily find an excuse to justify not doing them. When you are doing the activities, you will subconsciously prove to yourself they will not work.

I loved writing for contractors and speaking at their industry meetings. I did not enjoy going to Bar meetings, networking or going to Rotary Club meetings. I felt uncomfortable “asking” for business. I focused on what I enjoyed and did well and quit doing things I did not enjoy.

So should you.

Recently I read an Entrepreneur Magazine article: 7 Key Habits of Super Networkers. It caused me to wonder if networking really works for lawyers. What do you think? Is networking a client development strategy? If so, how can you do it well?

I believe many, if not all of the “formal” networking events are a waste of time for lawyers. Have you ever been to a formal networking event when you thought great potential clients and referral sources were there?  Second, do you think any client would hire a lawyer because someone you met at a formal networking event for a few minutes recommends you?

Even if you agree with me that “formal” networking events are a waste of time, you will still be “networking” and building your network. When you attend events where you can network it makes sense to have a game plan.

If you are able to find out who is attending, identify who you want to meet. What do you want to discuss with each person?  Next, have your “elevator speech” planned. How will you respond when someone asks what you do.

You have arrived at the event. What now? Years ago I read How to Connect in Business in 90 Seconds or Less by Nicholas Boothman. It is a short, easy read book and I found it valuable. In the book, Boothman gives some rules he learned from working as Francis Xavier Muldoon’s personal assistant. Muldoon’s rule number 1 was:

When you meet someone, look them in the eye and smile.

I believe that after looking the other person in the eye and smiling you should try to build trust, develop rapport and find common interests. One of the best way to do it is to ask open ended questions that get the other person talking and allow you to get to know them.

If you are stuck on questions, here are Bob Burg’s 10 Feel Good Questions from his book: Endless Referrals.

Finally, find a reason to follow up with the people you meet at the event. It could be as simple as connecting with them on LinkedIn. But, if you paid close attention you likely heard something that gives you a way to connect with them again.

Yesterday I posted: Client Development: Stay Motivated By Focusing on Progress. I thought it might be helpful if I shared a real life example of making progress.

Last Friday I received an email from a successful partner I coach. He asked that I call him so he could share, not just progress, but a “breakthrough” story with me.

When I called the lawyer shared his breakthough with me. Even though he is very successful, he is introverted and generally either avoids networking events or stands in the corner by himself.

Last week he was scheduled to attend a small networking event. For this event he had bios of each person attending. Just to see what would happen, he took time to study the bios, memorize the names and found something for each person that he shared in common.

Networking.jpgWhen he arrived at the event, he started seeking out those attending. He approached a person and introduced himself. When the person shared his or her name, the lawyer checked back into his memory bank. The person started with some “small talk.” The lawyer let each person do it. But, as soon as there was a pause, the lawyer asked how the person got involved in…..

The lawyer told me:

The first time I did it, the other person almost fainted from surprise and he could not stop talking.  The fact that I took the time to learn something about him (and found him interesting enough to remember it) made a significant impact.

I spoke with about ten people — and rather than hanging out by the buffet table — found myself wanting to move from person to person to continue getting the same surprised, pleasant reaction.  It was the first time I ever had to make a graceful exit from a conversation.

It’s funny … I could actually see they were disappointed our conversation was coming to an end — but I broke away gracefully.  Quite an experience!

There are many points to this story. Here are a few:

  1. You will really feel motivated when you are making progress.
  2. Doing something successfully that is normally not in your comfort zone is making progress and it will energize you to do more.
  3. When doing something outside your comfort zone, find a way to have fun doing it.
  4. Prepare for networking events by finding out what you can about those attending.
  5. In a conversation with a stranger, search for something you share in common to put that person at ease.
  6. You have to be able to exit gracefully and respectfully to be able to work the room.