Most lawyers are comfortable discussing the law, legal service, and legal issues. However, that’s not what most non-lawyers go to networking events to do, so you’re already at odds with what those you meet want.

Let’s stipulate that you’ve found a way to overcome your reluctance to meet people, you work the room diligently, and you produce the traditional networking effect, i.e., you meet, chat with amiably, and exchange business cards with five people. What happens next?

Usually, next to nothing. Why? Because there’s nothing concrete that’s supposed to happen because there’s no basis for any logical, productive next step, so you haven’t agreed on any concrete next step. You may each have described what you do for a living. You may even have agreed to refer people whenever someone you know has a need for the other’s service. But neither of you have agreed to do anything tomorrow. After tomorrow, all the good intentions are forgotten, buried under the weight of another busy day.

How would you describe those you met last night? “Interesting.” “Nice.” “Sharp.” So, now we have two nice, sharp, interesting people who enjoyed chatting for awhile. If this was purely social, on that basis you might be motivated to ask him or her out on a date. However, since it’s a business gathering, you need a more significant reason for a business “date.” Test yourself: How likely are you to take time out of a busy week and schedule lunch with someone who’s merely nice, sharp, and interesting?

How many times have you taken the first step to suggest getting together? Probably rarely, because you can’t think of a reason they’d want to meet with you, so you don’t expect the invitation to be well received. You fear that while you’re asking they’re thinking, “I don’t have time during the business day to indulge myself in lunch with casual acquaintances I met at a networking event. I’ve got to reserve prime-time for people who are making a difference in my professional life.” Your fear is justified.

Let’s return to our scenario. You collected five business cards from the event last night. You muster the courage to send each person an email saying “Nice to have met you last night. Let’s get together some time.” You’re shocked to get a reply from each saying, “Great idea. I’d like that. How about lunch next week?” Now, the shoe is on the other foot. Will you make time for five lunches, the value of which seems like a “someday, maybe” proposition, or will you claim (truthfully) to be jammed, or put it off in some other nice way, and never revisit it?

Let’s get past that and say that you’re willing to do just that, i.e., take a long shot on five lunches. Even if the restaurant is in your building, you’re still talking a minimum of five hours over the course of, say, two weeks. What percentage of your business development time budget does that represent? Unless you’re an outlier, 2-3 hours per week is probably close to 100% of the time you allocate to biz dev. Are you really going to expend it on five people about whom you have no objective evidence that they’re prospects, all in service to some vague “relationship building” aim?

Continue with the math. You don’t develop a relationship over one lunch, which means that you’ve got to continue arranging contact with these five people via phone, email, and lunches. How often? Nobody knows, but let’s say you have to be in touch at least every other month to have any expectation of a relationship, and any chance at the result you want. Assuming that 25% of your touches were over lunch (1.25 hours each); 25% by phone (20 minutes each); and 50% by email (10 minutes each).

Since it makes no sense to go to one networking event, get five business cards and quit, let’s assume that you go to a networking event every other week, and meet five new people each time for a total of 10 new contacts per month. Here’s what that would look like over 18 months:

The good news is that you’ll have added 900 contacts. The bad news is that you’ve added 900 random contacts of unknown value, but who will require meaningful time investment to expose their value (or lack thereof).

Notice that the people you met in the first six months of Year Two will only have had 2-3 touches each, so we can’t count on them for any kind of results just yet. Over the course of a year, you’ll have invested roughly 290 hours staying in touch with, and trying to develop some kind of relationship with, people whose only qualification for such investment was being nice to you and handing you a business card.

What percentage of your total marketing time budget does that consume? For many lawyers, that equals or exceeds their annual marketing time allocation (the recommendation for which seems to be in the 200 hours per year range, or four hours per week).

The rest of the bad news is that this huge time commitment doesn’t include time spent maintaining and growing current clients, which means you have the choice of ignoring them in favor of these random strangers, or doubling your time budget.

Bottom line: Accumulating random contacts yields a bloated, unwieldy pipeline that has too much overhead. How can that make sense?

Even if lawyers were full-time salespeople, with 50 hours per week to devote to business generation, this still wouldn’t make any sense.