Lots of lawyers tell me they're uncomfortable attending business functions at which there will be a lot of receptions featuring networking time with corporate counsel. Most of what I write about and teach lawyers guides them through their interactions with the line-of-business managers who live with the problems that lawyers help solve, rather than the corporate counsel who select lawyers to perform specific legal tasks. However, I recognize that you have to spend time with in-house lawyers, too.

While outside lawyers relish the opportunity to meet corporate counsel, they don't know how to start a conversation and steer it to their capabilities. (Forget about the steering part; nobody wants to talk about your capabilities.) Getting started can be easier if you explore counsel's preferences in lawyer practice behavior. After all, that's the real basis for choosing you among the many who have similar expertise.

The first hurdle is the "What do you do?" question. Please don't say, "I'm a lawyer," or "I'm a [practice type] lawyer." Instead, define yourself in terms of the impact you have on clients. "I help tech companies keep their trade secrets secret when employees go to competitors." Most people will be intrigued enough to ask you to clarify. Give a brief answer, then differentiate yourself from the scores of lawyers who can't wait to tell this counsel what terrific lawyers they are. Immediately segue to, "You must do business with a lot of law firms. What are three things that too many law firms do that you wish none did?" After he or she answers, ask, "Why are those specific behaviors so bothersome?"

Now, flip it around to identify positive behaviors they prefer. "What three things do too few firms do that you wish they all did?" After they reply, ask the obvious follow-up question: "Why are those specific behaviors so beneficial?"

This discussion focuses you on how this buyer prefers to be treated. Besides differentiating you, it may also index his memory of some things about incumbent counsel that aren't exactly to his liking. 

What if you hear predictable, vague answers like, "responsiveness" or "cost-effectiveness"? You can probably predict 90% of the responses you'll hear, so be prepared. Don't accept Pablum. Be ready with clarifying questions that yield a useful understanding of what this person would appreciate or reject if he was your client. To avoid abstractions, focus on observable behavior, e.g., "How do the best firms demonstrate (responsiveness/cost-effectiveness)?" For negative traits, ask how the buyer would change the behavior to produce a more desirable effect. 

Mike O'Horo

There's no reason to suffer discomfort with any aspect of business development. Schedule a free discussion with me to get some tips that will help immediately, and learn how coaching can simplify this challenge, and remove all the unnecessary moving parts and counter-productive actions that prevent your success and alienate prospective clients.

Meanwhile, to improve your results from the time you spend at networking events, experience RainmakerVT's online training: Networking Events: Progressing from the Doorway to a Sales Opportunity - Comfortably. You'll learn by doing, as you guide a virtual you through a simulated networking event, deciding what you'll do or say next, and getting immediate virtual coaching feedback -- all from the privacy and comfort of your computer.