Building Your Book of Business

by admin 7. January 2014 11:10

By LESLEE COHEN

Another excellent question that arose at this year's Leadership Forum of the Coalition of Women's Initiatives in Law was how young associates are supposed to find time for networking toward future business development when they are also working extremely long hours in the quest to become excellent attorneys (which is, of course, an absolute condition to thriving as a firm associate). One of the panel members suggested that networking at early career stages be conducted internally, so as to become recognizable to firm leadership as a "go to" person and someone to keep an eye on as a potential future member of firm management. Although I agree with this suggestion, the fact is that you will never have "enough" time to do everything you aspire to do once you start your career. Therefore, you should network internally as well as externally but obviously time management is key.

When I first realized that I needed to build my own book of business three years ago (far too late in my career--none of you will make that same mistake if you've been paying attention to my advice!), I began to network. I joined a wonderful networking organization geared toward women professionals and business owners of all types. I learned through that experience how networking is conducted--how to introduce myself at our monthly meetings and make sure that the other women attendees truly understood what I did for a living and the type of clients I was seeking, the need to follow up with one-on-one breakfasts, lunches or coffees with good client and referral prospects and the best practice of giving something of value to each of the people with whom I met before expecting anything positive to result from our meeting (for instance, an introduction or an article of interest). In the end, this organization's meetings were held at inconvenient times for me and I learned that the members were not the perfect fit in terms of my practice and the client base I was trying to build. Accordingly, I cut my losses, took what I learned and "guested" at several other networking organizations' meetings until I found the one the was best for me. I then became very involved in that organization--you only get what you put into anything in life. In addition, I stopped taking time-consuming breakfast, lunch and coffee meetings with people whom I did not think were likely to be able to refer the kind of business I was seeking.  

Although I had already put in the crazy long hours as a law firm associate when I started networking, my time for networking is limited by the fact that I have two young boys to raise, aging parents to help, as well as the need to produce all of the business that I will service and the time to actually get the work done and bill hours so as to make a living. To summarize, I recommend that associates spend whatever time they can find on identifying the right organization for them. That may be a networking organization or it may be a charity where they can work toward board membership and in the meantime serve on committees working closely with potential future clients or business referral sources.  For those of you in smaller firms that are specialized by practice area, it may be in a lawyers group, where you will be able to refer business to lawyers in other practice areas and receive referrals back from other members. It may also be a group that you put together, composed of your former law school colleagues with the intention of staying in touch in the long run, when many of those people will work in-house or in the business world and become your clients.  Choose one organization eventually, become as active in that organization as time permits and meet regularly--even if that's only once a month at first--one-on-one with your co-members so as to foster closer relationships. It IS time consuming but it also IS worth the investment--I promise!   

 

Leslee Cohen is a principal at Hershman Cohen LLC, a boutique corporate and securities law firm in Chicago that stands out from the crowd, combining big-firm experience with small-firm rates and relationships.  Leslee lives in Deerfield with her husband—the true love of her life—and her two amazing boys, ages 13 and 10.  She was a co-founder of the Coalition of Women’s Initiatives in Law and continues to serve on its board of directors, and she is very active in the Small Business Advocacy Council. Her interests outside of work and family include fashion and politics, and her passion is helping younger women rise to the top of their professions.

Tags:

Leslee Cohen | Life on the Lattice | Mentoring, Networking & Business Development

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