Over at my weekly perch at Above the Law, I took the position in a recent column that bar associations are useless for networking and generating referrals. My column wasn’t meant to diss the bars; I noted that even if they’re not effective for networking, they a wealth of resources such as low-cost CLE, free research tools (like Fastcase or Casemaker and quality practice management support.
Still, I argued that the nature of the bar structure plays against solos and smalls. Most committees are dominated by large firm lawyers, who pass along leadership positions to their associates. And even if a solo or small could get a foot in the door, leadership on bar committees can consume hours of time on questions like “should we have chairs or no chairs at the next event” or shepherding a panel idea through layers of bureaucracy. I typically complain enough to get myself appointed to a committee where I’ll do my share – but eventually grow impatient with immovable policies (for example, after 2 years and organizing 3 successful, 90+ person brown bag events, I left the DC Practice Management Committee after waiting for the launch of a DC Bar list serve, which to this day still hasn’t taken place).
Still, it’s possible that I extrapolated my own specific lack of success with bar events into a generalization applicable to all lawyers. Indeed, in the days since my column, a couple of colleagues have tweeted their disagreement with my premise, noting that they’ve found success and referrals through bar participation. In short, it does happen, even though it hasn’t happened for me or the colleagues with whom I’ve commiserated.
So here’s my question. For those of you who have been successful in generating referrals from bar association participation, how has it happened? Have you gotten to know lawyers through committees who sent work your way? Gained exposure such that other lawyers in the community learned your name and referred you cases? And how much time did it take to reach that point? In short, I’m interested in specific how to’s rather than regurgitation of conventional wisdom like “attend bar networking events.” So please share your experiences with bar associations as a source of referrals — positive or negative — in the comment section below – or let me know if you’d like to write a guest post on this topic.