In a recent CMCP video, Hyun Park, Senior Vice President and GC of PG&E, said it best. “The legal business is all about relationships.” If you attended the CMCP Annual Business Conference in September, you undoubtedly noticed that every in-house attorney who spoke on a panel mentioned relationships as being a key factor in their hiring decisions. Many of these panelists noted that even when they hired well-known attorneys, the decision was based on having a relationship with that person. Correspondingly, the outside counsel panelists also talked about the importance of relationships in building their books of business. Both groups pointed out that these relationships did not happen overnight. In most cases, it took several years of interactions to build the necessary trust, and to find the right opportunity to work together.

It’s worth pointing out that there is a depth to these relationships. That depth is a result of investing time in numerous interactions over a period of years. Certainly, all of the attorneys who spoke at the conference have met hundreds, if not thousands, of people during the course of their careers. They may consider many of these acquaintances part of their extended network. But how many people are they in contact with on a regular basis? Given the press of business, most of us limit our interactions to a core group of contacts with whom we communicate regularly. The rest of our network consists of numerous contacts that we talk to or see infrequently.

It might appear that a core group is solid, with no room for new relationships. But the one constant in business, as in life, is change. Even core groups change over time. There will always be opportunities to expand the members of any group, as business needs change. New products and services often require different expertise. Management changes often generate opportunities for fresh perspectives. It is for all of these reasons that Corporate Connections was created and has become such an important part of the Annual Business Conference.

An Environment for Building Relationships

Although Corporate Connections is an ideal way to meet potential clients, it was only one part of the two-day CMCP conference. As with any networking event, the purpose was not to bring buyers and sellers together, but to help people connect. CMCP is a community that shares a commitment to diversity in the legal profession. That common purpose has been a starting point for thousands of relationships.

If you have read my previous posts, you know that I advocate having a large network. The more people you know, the more connections you can make. Those connections lead to opportunities to meet potential clients and referral sources, or they could lead to employment at law firms or corporate legal departments. Remember that while quantity is important, the quality of your relationships also matters. We all know people on LinkedIn who have more than 500 contacts. There aren’t enough hours in the day to have meaningful connections with that many people.

Developing Trusted Relationships

Sonia Sotomayor shared great advice about relationships in her book, “My Beloved World.” She wrote, “Sometimes, idealistic people are put off the whole business of networking as something tainted by flattery and the pursuit of selfish advantage. But virtue in obscurity is rewarded only in heaven. To succeed in this world, you have to be known to people.”

I would add that being known and knowing others requires curiosity about other people. Networking is not about “get working.” It is about showing an interest in another person and having conversations that lead to deeper connections.

If you haven’t yet followed up with the people you met at the September conference, I will suggest that you review your stack of business cards and determine next steps for each person. Your follow up activities can be fairly simple:

  • Send an email or make a phone call to your new contacts, and include a reminder about the conversation you had together.
  • Send a LinkedIn invitation.
  • When you plan to attend industry events, ask whether your contacts will be there. Make a point of seeking them out and having a brief conversation at the event.
  • If you are aware of issues that impact your contact’s business, send information that is relevant or offer to discuss a certain aspect that you know about.
  • Plan quarterly follow up emails or calls and schedule a face to face meeting whenever possible.

As always, your marketing plan should be updated with the short-term activities that will lead to long-term relationships.