When I decided to become a lawyer it was to practice law, not marketing. But the reality of the current private legal market is that everyone has to be in business development. When I started at my firm, I was strongly encouraged to build a network of people who were not lawyers. The problem is that, after three years of law school and two years of clerking, everyone I knew, aside from my family, was a lawyer.
How, as a practicing lawyer, was I going to meet non-lawyers? (Not to mention that I am half an introvert. I tend to be very quiet until I know you.)
One colleague recommended I get involved in something, anything non-lawyer related that I cared about. I thought a lot about this realized I cared about education and promoting higher education. So I went to an alumni event at Stevenson University. Not knowing anyone, my introverted side kept me circling the room with no particular goal in mind and not talking to anyone.
While returning from the bathroom, however, I met a very kind woman who turned out to be married to somebody in University Development. They chatted with me and introduced me to a few other people. Since then, I have become very involved the alumni board and have held several positions. I know everyone on the board and never go to an event without knowing someone. Everyone is super nice and has the same goal – to make SU great and get more alumni involved.
For years, I tried several different types of marketing. It is particularly hard as a young lawyer, because you have little experience and are competing against other lawyers with tons of it. I have learned that large events with hundreds of people are not for me. I do not like networking-specific events. I, frankly, do not want to stand in a room while everyone talks about what they do for hours trying to sell one another. Totally not my style.
Over the years, with several failed attempts and a lot of self-discovery, I learned that building real relationships with people is how I prefer to “develop business.” I intentionally use quotes because I don’t want to just build a network relationship, I want to actually get to know people. Once I trust you and your work product, I will absolutely refer work to you. I don’t just want to hear about your success at work. I want to learn about what you like, what you do with your spare time, what brought you to Maryland. The professional stuff comes into play, but it is not the forefront.
I also prefer to get involved in causes I care about and want to devote my time to — causes that I don’t mind missing an occasional dinner with my husband. Having a common goal with others is a great way to get to know each other and really see what the person is about.
I cannot say that my plan for business development is going to work for you. But to those who are wallflowers at networking events, I encourage you to find something you care about and get involved. There is no shortage of nonprofits, communities and businesses that need volunteer support. Do some research and find something that you are happy to give your time to.
Angela Davis Pallozzi is counsel at Offit Kurman P.A. in Baltimore.