Conventional wisdom recommends that lawyers involve themselves in organizations like bar or trade associations — either by joining the groups or offering to speak at events — to demonstrate legal and leadership skills and build relationships with colleagues and potential clients through regular contact. Trouble is that this advice is easier said than done. Most bar associations are already top-heavy with lawyers, and plum speaking engagements typically go to those with long tenure. Likewise, lawyers have infiltrated many trade associations, so much so that there’s a waiting list even for lawyers willing to speak for free.
So what’s a lawyer to do to get a foot in the door? The answer may surprise you. Instead of pitching your legal services to a group, you’re better off volunteering to do the scut work. For example, many associations don’t have a list serve or easy way to communicate with members. As Jonathan Stein describes in this GP Solo article (September 2011), it’s simple to set up a listserv using free, out-of-the-box tools. Though Stein talks about creating a listserv for a group of colleagues, his tips are equally relevant to a lawyer who seeks to start a list for an existing organization.
Another option to get some visibility within an organization is to volunteer to set up and manage a website, blog, electronic newsletter or Facebook page. Surprisingly, even as social media has gained traction, there aren’t many lawyers who have the ability to set up a website or blog or social media presence. If you can offer these skills, you’ll make yourself indispensable. In fact, one reason that I was able to get in on the trade association that I co-founded, the Ocean Renewable Energy Coalition (OREC) is because I was able to set up the organization’s website, which took the group through its first two years.
Doing grunt work doesn’t just give lawyers a way to contribute to a group but puts you at the center of the action. When you run the website, other members of the organization need to be in touch to send postings or share information on upcoming activities. The frequent contact will keep you at the front of their mind for potential referrals.
Lawyers can also look to non-legal work to reach out to clients who are regularly bombarded with invitations to estate planning and long-term care seminars. Instead of sponsoring yet another legal educational seminar, why not sponsor an event on a related topic that will attract your target audience. So, for example, if you seek to represent elderly clients, how about holding a mini-class on how to use Facebook to stay in touch with family, or 10 Ways a Grandparent Can Use an Ipad with Grandchildren? A firm targeting small business clients, authors or entertainment industry clients could sponsor an event on marketing with social media. Of course, you’d still distribute your law practice materials and mention your practice, but the non-legal activities would draw potential clients in the door.
At one time, being a lawyer was a value add; a qualification that would get you on a non-profit board or trade association steering committee or an opportunity to present at a CLE. Now, with so many lawyers, from large and small firms, angling for work, many of these opportunities are no longer readily available. That’s why lawyers need to consider non-law related ways to get in on the ground floor. Call it doing the grunt work, but your willingness to get your hands dirty can lead to far grander work in the long term.