Wendy Merrill is the Founder & Chief Rainmaker of StrategyHorse Consulting Group, providing leadership, professional and business development training and support to lawyers. We talked to Wendy about how lawyers can continue to nurture and develop their networks during the coronavirus crisis.
RI: Besides the obvious (that we can’t meet in person), what’s changed about networking right now?
WM: I think that virtual networking has been a godsend for lawyers. Most attorneys I know hate attending events and have traditionally equated networking with schmoozing at a dinner, happy hour or networking breakfast — not exactly the ideal situation for an introverted professional. Now that we are all sequestered at home, it’s becoming the norm to want to connect with others in a casual and somewhat relaxed way via videoconference or phone call. They’re perfecting the remote “one on one” meeting I’ve always been such a fan of, and they’re reaping the benefits.
RI: Do clients want to hear from a lawyer right now?
WM: Yes, just not in a “traditional” way. I often preach to my clients the importance of positioning themselves as “trusted advisors” as opposed to a legal professional whose main objective is to interpret the law. Of course, the technical side continues to be important, however, what people need now is a partner. They need their lawyer to position themself as a partner, someone who sits on the same side of the table as the client. Clients are nervous, and good lawyers understand their role and responsibility in helping them manage their anxiety about protecting their businesses and families. Right now it’s not about hours billed, but rather, can a client breathe a little easier because of the relationship they have with their lawyer.
RI: Can you give us a sample message that strikes the right tone?
WM: “I am here to partner with you and help you in any way I can. This may include advising you in new ways, adjusting the scope of work, listening and helping you to reprioritize based on the current economic climate or helping you to connect with other professionals that would be of value to you.”
RI: How can lawyers avoid seeming desperate or opportunistic?
WM: By employing the above-mentioned tactic…and doing it sincerely. Also, this is not a good time to overtly market. It is, however, the perfect time to brand-build by being generous and helpful with no direct expectation of anything in return.
RI: What should lawyers NOT do?
WM: The same things they should not do during any other time:
- Don’t talk over your clients. Listen, listen, listen. Too many lawyers tend to bloviate to substantiate their rates and their egos. Big no-no.
- Don’t churn files. I should not have to say this, but some firms are actually doing this to justify their existence.
- Don’t ask for referrals. If the client trusts their lawyer and feels that they “have their back”, the referrals will come…unsolicited.
- Don’t offer discounts unless clear expectations are set and agreed upon that rates will return to normal once the curve flattens.
RI: There was a lot of feedback from in-house counsel after the first wave of coronavirus messaging from law firms that it was too much and overwhelming. How can lawyers distinguish themselves in the midst of so much noise right now?
WM: Focus on the personal/human experience. As I mentioned earlier, a good attorney is a good and generous human. Reaching out and proactively communicating with clients just to see how they’re doing is just as valuable as the latest updates on how they should respond to COVID realities.
Are you an attorney with questions about networking during the COVID-19 crisis? Contact Wendy at firstname.lastname@example.org.