For networking opportunities, civic participation is hard to beat

  • December 06, 2014

Without a doubt, one of the best ways for a young lawyer to market and network in the community is through participation in various charitable and civic organizations. Your decision to join a civic organization should not be taken lightly. Your participation will reflect on you not only as a member of the organization but also as to how you will perform as someone’s lawyer.

Before joining a civic organization, ask yourself several questions. How much time do I have available? Do I have free time during the weekday or only on weekends? How much time will I be expected to contribute? What can I contribute to this organization? How can I develop my professional skills in this organization? And, perhaps most importantly, what are my options if this organization does suit my needs?

Before you commit yourself to any organization, consider the financial costs and time commitment associated with joining it. Any organization will provide you some opportunity to obtain general name recognition; look for one that offers the opportunity to target the particular legal market you hope to serve.

Regardless of the organization you join, do not expect to gain clients immediately through your participation. Keep in mind an important point: don’t join an organization just to get business. If this is your sole motivation for joining, it will be very obvious and you will probably do more harm to your reputation than good.

Once you join, let people in the organization know the type of law you practise. Keep in mind that at some point in time, almost everyone in your organization will need to employ the services of a lawyer. Because you often will be asked the type of law you practise, be ready to explain in two or three sentences in a manner understandable to laypersons. You should consider writing down a “statement of practice,” which concisely describes your practice. Remember your statement of practice in a way that is easy to describe in casual conversation. By educating other members of your organization about your practice, they will know when to refer your name.

Groups to consider

There are several groups of general interest which will help you to meet a wide spectrum of people. You should keep in mind that everyone, no matter what their immediate needs, is a potential lead because might know someone who needs a lawyer.

Most areas have Kiwanis, Rotary and similar clubs, and you may want to consider joining at least one of these. These organizations will provide excellent opportunities to work in the community and to interact with non-lawyers. Older members of civic groups typically have more complex legal needs. Business leaders are often members of civic groups, and membership can provide a great forum to interact with them in a non-congenial environment.

If there is a Chamber of Commerce in your area, it may provide an excellent opportunity to meet motivated individuals who might have legal needs. If you are in practice by yourself or in a small firm, membership will be especially helpful since your want to promote your business in the community.

Many Chambers of Commerce process thousands of inquiries a month from visitors, newcomers, tourists and members. Most have social events, which provide an excellent opportunity to meet people who may need your services. If you do real estate closing, you will be meet realtors. If you practise corporate law, you will most likely meet several small business owners. Family lawyers might encounter someone with domestic issues that need to be addressed. Finally, many chambers publish monthly newsletters, which contain news articles about current members, and introduce new members.

Is there a downside?

Once you have decided to get involved with a civic organization, be aware of your time constraints and don’t overextend yourself. As you become more involved, and others in the group see that you are action-oriented, you will probably be assigned more responsibility. Fresh in your mind will be the satisfaction you have gained through your efforts, and you may be inclined to take on every project. Be careful! Resist the temptation to take on more projects than you can successfully handle.

Don’t be afraid to say No. Practise saying it. Otherwise, you become overextended and overworked. Always remembers that participation in any organization is voluntary and meant to be fun. If you overextend yourself, you will stop having fun and perceive the organization as a chore. Your performance on projects will deteriorate and you may become frustrated with your predicament. As your performance deteriorates, so will the impression you leave with the others in the organization. So instead of always saying “yes,” be prepared and willing to say “no.”

Don’t get discouraged if you don’t immediately develop a cache of clients through the group. As with any business development effort, it will take time before you realize the fruits of your labour. You can rest assured, however, that you will eventually obtain results from your participation.

This article was excerpted from Getting the Word Out: A Guide to Law Firm and Law Practice Marketing for Small Firm or Solo Practitioners, a 2004 publication of the North Carolina Bar Association Young Lawyers Division. Reproduced with permission.