Should you take a stand on social issues?

Like so many people, I was rocked by last week’s shootings at the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, SC. (For those of you outside the US who may not have heard about the story, here’s an article that will fill you in.)

In 2012, I wrote a short article following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, urging lawyers to act in whatever way they felt appropriate to address the issues. Nearly three years later, we’re still facing these issues, and others (especially concerning racism and how law enforcement interacts with various groups of people) are boiling.

Here’s the relevant excerpt from the 2012 article:

There’s been much discussion about what we as a society should do in terms of gun control, making treatment more available for the mentally ill, and protecting our children. This newsletter isn’t the forum for me to promote the solutions that seem most appropriate to me. The bottom line for me is, as expressed by Nelson Mandela, “We owe our children – the most vulnerable citizens in any society – a life free from violence and fear.”

As lawyers, we are in a unique position. We are not “more equal” in any Orwellian sense, but we are often de facto leaders in our communities. There’s been a great deal of discussion about whether this is the time for mourning or action, but I personally believe that the stakes are so high that the two should not be separated.

Please, use your leadership and your voice to advance the solutions that you think stand the best chance of creating the life our children deserve. I will be doing the same in my community. And whether we agree or disagree about the “how” of building a safer society, I believe that the free and open dialogue joined with action will advance that goal.

I received a number of responses to that newsletter, most questioning whether and how to take a stand without alienating clients and potential clients. It’s a fair question, especially when addressing hot-button issues like how to address racism, whether to institute some additional forms of gun control, or access to mental health treatments. And the truth is that if you take a stand, there’s a chance that someone will be offended. That’s true for less-pressing issues as well, though: do you support the “right” community activities? Will someone be offended if you do (or don’t) sponsor some organization?

Taking a stand may cost some business, and it may also attract some other business. The bigger question is the cost of not saying or doing something that’s in deep alignment with one’s values.

Whether it’s in the context of recent events or more day-to-day affairs, think about these factors as you consider taking a public stand:

  • How likely is it that your stand will alienate a class of [potential] clients? If you’re considering taking a public position in favor of gun control, for example, and you represent gun manufacturers, it’s a safe bet that your clients and potential clients will be affected and probably displeased.
  • How important is this position to me? If you choose to take sides on a hot social issue, make sure that the issue really matters to you. Otherwise, you’ll likely find that any cost outweighs the benefit. But don’t take a position just to get business—it may appear disingenuous and if so, it’ll backfire.
  • How likely is it that your stand will attract a class of potential clients? Your answer here should not determine whether you decide to take action, but it may provide some comfort. If you can’t answer this question, look at the psychographics of your ideal client. Just as some investors choose socially conscious investments, some clients may be attracted to a lawyer who views the world as they do.
  • How publicly should you act? Your options range from taking a very public role to donating money anonymously. Choose an action and a forum that matches your level of commitment and your assessment of business risk.

I’ll close with the same call I made in 2012: Please, use your leadership and your voice to advance the solutions that you think stand the best chance of creating the society we deserve. 

Informal networking for pleasure and (maybe) profit

Clients have been asking a lot of questions lately about networking. Whenever you have an opportunity to meet people, it’s a networking opportunity. If you expand your thinking beyond business networking, you’ll find that you can make useful connections just about anywhere. That means that you could bring back more than shells from your next beach vacation, if (and only if) you have a plan in place that will let you connect with people in a friendly way that opens the door to business conversation if appropriate. Here’s how you do that… 

First, keep your eyes open for opportunity. Especially since so many people are on smartphones and tablets all the time, it’s easy to miss a good connection. And if you’re open to talking with others, you may find that reading a newspaper or magazine makes you more approachable than reading the same thing on a device. Because this is casual networking, don’t try to be strategic about the people with whom you’re talking. Unless you’re in a pre-selected group of people, you’ll find it difficult (if not impossible) to isolate someone who’s ideal for your business purposes.

Make your overture. Your opener doesn’t need to be special or memorable, fortunately. Try ordinary openers like, “First time at this resort?” “How’s the coffee here?” or even a simple greeting. Remember how you meet people when you’re just being friendly? Do that.

Ask questions in a curious (but not prying) way. Your goal in asking questions is to find a point of connection. That might be business, but more likely you’ll start with a personal connection, like a shared hometown, kids who are the same age, or a spouse who begged off whatever you’re doing to spend the day by the pool. A caveat here: don’t be the person who starts off by asking, “So, what do you do?” It doesn’t matter whether you’re at your child’s soccer game or at a resort in Fiji, that question is more likely to close conversation than to open it.

Keep this quote in mind:

At some point, work will probably come up naturally in the conversation. If not, there’s no harm in asking.

If you discover a potential business connection, share what you’ve found and suggest continuing the conversation at a later time. Share enough to pique curiosity (the nature of your mutual interest, how you might benefit each other, what you might be able to offer), and then suggest a later telephone conversation or meeting for business conversation. Although it will occasionally be appropriate to talk business in the moment, more often you’ll find too much other activity nearby and a lack of privacy.  Here’s more on how to handle this stage of the conversation

Be sure to get contact information for follow-up, and where it’s appropriate, follow up as soon as reasonably possible. If you’re vacationing, you might wait until you get home, but if you bumped into someone new at your child’s camp or at a friend’s barbeque night, send a quick email or LinkedIn connection (with a personalized introduction!) within 48 hours.

If you don’t discover a business connection but you enjoy the person, keep talking. Perhaps you won’t find any business benefit from the connection, but you might be able to make a useful introduction to someone else, or maybe you’ll just make a new friend or pass a pleasant few minutes chatting. That’s the beauty of informal networking.

How committed are you?

The topic of commitment has been coming up over and over in the last few weeks. What’s the first thing you think when you think of commitment in the context of your practice?  Without commitment in three particular areas, success is unlikely.

Commitment to business development.  To get consistent results in building your practice, you must be consistent with your business development efforts.

When I consult with a potential client who wants to secure more work, I always ask questions to uncover not just what business development activities they’ve tried, but how consistently they’ve tried them. That’s because when a practice is underperforming, consistency is always lacking.

  • Calendar your plans and keep a checklist, divided into daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly activity.  This kind of reminder keeps you from leaving your activity up to chance.  It also avoids allowing your activity to slip when some change in outside circumstances might undermine habits you’ve developed. 

    One of my former clients wrote articles for a publication every other month for several years, but when the journal that published those articles closed, he neglected to put writing for publication on his checklist, and guess what?  He quit writing.  He found a couple of journals that were eager to publish his articles and added writing to his quarterly task list so it wouldn’t slip through the cracks again, and his stalled list of publications began growing again.  Checklists and schedules will help to keep activity consistent.
  • Commitment to clients.  I have observed lawyers who are so committed to growing their practices that they focus almost solely on getting the next new client, leaving behind current clients.  Legal ethics rules mandate a minimum level of client service, but when’s the last time you felt good about receiving merely adequate service?

    If you want to succeed in practice, make it your habit to create value for your clients through exceptional client service.  That means providing the substantive service the client needs, plus providing it in a way that surpasses need.  Every lawyer will do this in a different way that suits the lawyer, the practice, and the client. A few ideas: be proactive, share information, educate your clients about topics that are relevant to their needs, and look for opportunities to introduce your clients to other professionals they should know.

    Seth Godin’s book Purple Cow: Transform Your Business By Being Remarkable has many ideas on crafting service that will delight your clients.  
  • Commitment to succeeding in the business of practicing law.  What’s your backup plan if your practice doesn’t prosper?  Many lawyers, risk-averse by nature and training, need to have a backup plan to feel secure, and that isn’t a bad thing.  However, having a fallback can be a sign of serious trouble.

    I once spoke with a lawyer who told me that she was excited about moving in-house, but that if things didn’t go well, she could always go back to the firm she was leaving.  Plan B so permeated our conversation that I virtually guarantee she’ll be back at the job within a year.  And that’s ok, except that she’ll return with a feeling of failure if she doesn’t recognize that she was never really committed to building her own practice.  (I would be remiss not to note, though, that without a book of business, she may find it difficult or impossible to return to private practice or to return at the same level she held when she left. That’s part of the business of practicing law as well.)  
  • If you start every week (or every day or every project) with Plan B in mind, that’s where you’ll end up before you know it.

So, where’s your commitment level in each of these areas? You only have three options with respect to these three areas of business: get committed, find an alternative, or look for another way to practice law.

Legal Marketing: How to build business development commitment, consistency, and frequency

I’ve often drawn the analogy between business development activity and going to the gym. Both require commitment, consistency, and frequent activity for optimum results. For both activities, success comes only when you step outside what’s comfortable and familiar. And building muscle is likewise spot-on for both.

This summer, I’ve been swimming laps almost every morning. While I was swimming last week, I thought of another similarity: consistency comes more easily when the activity is fun. I really enjoy swimming, but especially when I’m focusing on increasing the number of laps I can squeeze into my timed swim, it isn’t that much fun.

After I’d hit my goal of swimming at least five times a week, I bought a waterproof iPod, and now I listen to music while I swim… And that brings back the fun for me. I usually look forward to spending time outside, enjoying music, and getting in some activity. Sure, I still have those days when I really don’t want to get in the pool, but as soon as I get in and turn on some of my favorite music, that reluctance fades away. More often than not, my swim time passes quickly, and I’ve done extra laps a few times just because I’m enjoying it.

Even if you enjoy business development activities, I’m certain you hit days when you just don’t want to do it. Those days when you’re tired because of other things going on, when you’re discouraged because you aren’t seeing results, or you’re just not in the mood. And if you think of business development as a necessary evil, every day might be an “I don’t wanna” kind of day.

That’s when you need to find your equivalent of the waterproof iPod. How can you build fun into business development? Here are a few ideas that have worked for my clients over the years:

  • Meeting a contact at a new restaurant each week
  • Inviting clients (or prospective clients) to go fly fishing, wine tasting, white water rafting, or boating
  • Launching a competition to see how many effective follow-up contacts you can make in a certain number of minutes
  • Planning a special side trip or spa day when you attend an out-of-town conference
  • Eating a special treat (which may or may not be healthy) every time you sit down to write an article
  • Taking a walk while planning a presentation, pausing periodically to dictate notes directly into Evernote 

Fortunately, the possibilities for bringing fun to business development are limited only by your imagination. What might you do to make the time more pleasurable so that you can build your commitment, consistency, and frequency of engaging in business development activities?