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Networking/business building and breaking out of my shell

I’m a fifth year associate, soon to be sixth year (yeesh, where does the time go!!), so business development has moved from “something to keep in my mind to work on in the future” to “a key issue to work on now.”  Business development, especially when you’re a litigator, is not something you can do with immediate results.  When I was doing personal injury work, I was starting to get the hang of it– in PI, you build relationships with other lawyers, and they refer you cases.  With commercial litigation work, however, you are seeking very different clients, and since litigation needs are often unpredictable and often not immediate, the key (from what I have been told at least) is to build relationships with people, so that if they have a need in the future, they will keep you in mind.  Of course, this is all stuff I’ve been told.  When it comes to business development, I’m flying by the seat of my pants.  If I had a book of business, I could speak with authority.  I don’t.  I’m throwing ideas out here of things I plan to do, with the hope of something working out.

I’ve been up to my ears in speaking and publishing opportunities– I published an article recently in the Legal Intelligencer, I’ve been doing periodic e-blasts on commercial litigation for my firm, I presented to our Managed Care group yesterday about Out of Network Reimbursement litigation, and I’ll be speaking to reporters at the Pittsburgh Business Times this week about libel law and social media. I’ve got writing and speaking covered, what I need to work on is connecting with people.

I’ve identified three things to work on over the summer:

1.  Polish my “Elevator Speech.”  More like compose my elevator speech.  When asked what I do, I go on a long ramble about commercial disputes, distribution agreements, managed care, and director and officer litigation.  The tough thing for an elevator speech for me is that litigation is more of a skill than a subject area, and I litigate in a wide variety of subject areas.  It’s tough to condense the broad range of things I work on into a 30 second speech.  Difficult, but not impossible, and it’s important that I pin it down.

2. Change my perspective.  I hate asking other people for favors, but I love helping other people out.  I need to stop thinking about business building as asking others to do something for me (asking them to give me their business), and I need to start thinking about business building as me doing something for them (helping them out in whatever legal conundrum they face).  This change in perspective should help me get over the dreaded hurdle of “the ask.”  It’s not an ask, it’s an offer.

3.  Introduce myself, and ask questions.  I dread networking happy hours.  I hate walking into a room of people I don’t know and having to introduce myself.  I have the terrible habit of identifying the one or two people I know in the room, and clinging onto them for dear life.  That works fine for hanging out with your friends, but doesn’t help at all when I’m attending a networking event with the goal of networking.  Summer is a wonderful time in Pittsburgh for parties and events.  I’m already planning to attend Pittsburgh Magazine’s Best Restaurants Party and the CFF Brewer’s Ball, and I’m sure many other fun events will pop up as well. My goal is to meet at least one new person (and not in that fleeting “hi how are you way,” I’m talking about meeting and following up later) at each event I attend.

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How to blog without getting fired

Although marketing departments have been touting the benefits of profession-oriented blogging for several years, the Powers That Be have been much slower in warming up to blogging at all  This is partially attributable to blogging be a relatively new-ish form of marketing***, but also due to the fact that blogging is rife with opportunity to make a blogger, and her employer, look very very bad.  Dooce and PittGirl are cautionary tales for the keyboard getting the best of you.

The balance of deciding what to post and how to post it is easy if your blog is industry-themed, or is themed on an innocuous topic (like food blogging, etc).  This balance gets considerably trickier when your blog contains content about your personal life.

I would like to keep blogging and keep working. To do this, I follow one rule:

Blog like everyone is watching.

Although my name and my workplace are found nowhere on this site, if you know me in the real world, you could easily connect this blog to me.  It is is a very likely possibility that my bosses will see this blog one day.  So with every entry I post, I ask: Is this entry an appropriate representation of me? Can I stand by the substance of this post?  The rule has many components, but I can generally address them all by asking myself those two questions.

Blogging like everyone is watching means:

  • Post no information about clients. Ever.  Post no information about the substance of pending matters. Ever.  These are such basic concepts that I feel like I shouldn’t even have to say them, but I’ve read a couple articles about attorneys blogging about their clients and facing disciplinary action as a result, so it was worth a mention.
  • Don’t disparage your workplace or your boss. Again, a basic concept, but people often forget, or just don’t get it.  Yes, there are certain legal protections about public discussion of working conditions.  I’m not an employment attorney, that’s not my wheelhouse.  A good way to avoid getting into hot water about your blog with your workplace is to not blog about your workplace.
  • Be mindful of differing viewpoints.  While certain professions, (college professors, for example,) are expected and encouraged to express strong opinions on contentious topics, expressing those opinions can be less-than-helpful if you’re an attorney or other professional in an industry that depends on attracting and retaining clients.  Your client may very well discover and read your blog, on his/her own (or you may even use the blog as a marketing tool).  Strong opinions on contentious issues may very well alienate clients and potential clients.  However, it may also attract potential clients, so this is not to say that you should not avoid contentious issues, but rather to say that you should think carefully about how you want to approach contentious issues and whether taking sides is beneficial or detrimental to your own business.  I personally avoid discussing contentious issues on my blog, because I feel that a lawyer should be able to represent clients with very similar viewpoints to her own, and also skillfully represent clients with very different viewpoints.
  • Remember personal boundaries.  It’s perfectly fine to discuss your personal life (I read an article about how discussing personal anecdotes builds trust but cannot find the article for the life of me)…but oversharing is unwise.  If it’s a personal anecdote that I’d feel comfortable sharing with someone I just met, I’ll share it on the blog.  If it’s the kind of story I’d just share with friends, it doesn’t belong on a public blog.
  • Proofreading doesn’t hurt.  Everyone struggles with typo’s, and after spending a day writing and proofing, the last thing I want to do is waste more time proofreading something I’ve written for fun.  Still, typo’s tarnish a well-written entry.  It’s worth a check.
  • Be positive.  I’m not positive in every post, but an entire blog of complaining becomes tiresome.  Sometimes when I’m feeling miserable, blogging helps me fight my bad mood by getting me to think about how my tone and attitude come across.  I remember being a sassy, sarcastic teenager, and an exasperated family friend asking me “Why are you so negative all the time?”  I was devastated, because I thought I was just clever, and didn’t realize that others thought I was so negative.  Stress and anger are so easy to express, that it’s easy to let your blog devolve into constant complaining.  Focusing on positive topics and ideas (or at least not complaining incessantly) helps turn the creative wheels, and is much more pleasant to read.

***Yes, I know that for the world at large blogs are not even remotely new, but law firms are very very very slow to adapt to change, so many law firms are still barely comfortable with the idea of blogging.

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networking

I really need to get moving with networking efforts.  I was so insanely busy with the county bar association’s Young Lawyers Division in the spring, that I’ve let things slide over the last two months.  Of course, the last two months were summertime, so there are far fewer traditional networking events happening.  September is right around the corner, and I need to kick it into gear.

I know I’m not alone when I say that going to a networking cocktail party, just for the purpose of networking is my worst nightmare.  I hate hate hate those events.  Although I am very outgoing with friends and acquaintances, I’m very shy when surrounded by people I don’t know.  I’ve been guilty at arriving late or bolting early when a structured event is accompanied by informal networking.

I need to face that demon, and just get better at walking up to people, introducing myself, and getting to know them.  The techniques I’ve tried to work with before are:(1) get there early-ish so that I don’t walk in on a room full of people already broken out into groups and engaged in conversations, and (2) to keep the conversation going, ask questions, questions, and more questions. If anyone has any other suggestions about how to make networking cocktail parties less nightmarish, I’m all ears.

These are some things I’ve done to network, yet avoid the terrible networking cocktail parties altogether:

(1) Participate in a Board of Directors on an organization I’m passionate about.  This is tricky because you have to identify what you’re passionate about (tougher than it sounds), identify the organization and board that’s the right fit for you, and get yourself on that board.

(2) Participate in classes or formal programs.  In 2009, I participated in the Coro Women in Leadership Program.  The program itself was amazing and taught me so many leadership and professional development skills, and I made friends with professional women who work in all different industries in Pittsburgh.  Coro itself offers tons and tons of networking opportunities for its alums, and I really need to start pursuing those opportunities.

(3) Volunteer.  This at least gives you something structured to do and talk about, and is a good segue to introducing yourself to others (which is the absolute hardest part for me).  I don’t have the time to volunteer at a set organization on a consistent basis, but I do find plenty of single day/single event volunteer opportunities that are fulfilling and fun.

The (purported) networking tool I find least helpful is Facebook.  Facebook is great for keeping in touch with family and in-real-life friends.  There is nothing worst than becoming a facebook friend with someone you recently met in a networking setting, and then they flat out ignore you the next time they see you in real life.  You can’t go up to them and say “Hey remember me? I AM YOUR FACEBOOK FRIEND” because that is creepy.  I have no real solution for this.