By Josh Beser, in-house counsel
This is the second of a series of posts on law firm business development from the perspective of in-house counsel. Josh is an associate general counsel and serves as an adviser to Law Leaders Lab, leading our 5 Coffee Challenge initiative.
Learning to give first can be tough, and learning to give without expectation of it ever coming back takes much longer.
Relationships are built out of generosity. A true relationship, not a networking opportunity, exists to learn about and give to other people. I believe that meeting interesting people and listening will benefit every person who reads this article. This means that we need to stop talking about ourselves and listen: learn to the person’s story, work, problems and needs. It’s not important to think about whether the person is a “potential client,” a “potential collaborator” or a “potential boss.” Everyone you think is interesting is in some way one or more of these. But when you think about what a collaboration can look like before spending time together, you’re jumping ahead.
How do you identify and meet interesting people? It’s actually a lot easier than you think. Think industry, not profession. What companies or people are working on projects that are genuinely interesting to you? Be careful not to limit your list to people who do what you do. For example, if you’re a lawyer, it’s ok to include other lawyers but ensure at least half of the people on the list are non-lawyers. Get out of your professional echo chamber. If you’re having trouble identifying people,email me and I will help you.
Once you’ve identified who you want to meet, think about what you want to learn from them and if you can, how you can make their lives better. How can you help? Hint: It’s not by asking them to be your client so you can bill them for your time. You can make introductions, you might know something interesting about a subject you have in common, or you might recommend a good restaurant for an upcoming trip. It’s hard to pin down what that value will be, since it’s necessarily unique to the other person. Your goal should be to listen, learn about what the other person is up to and try to find ways to be valuable to them.
The book Give and Take, by Adam Grant, is a great primer on this. As Grant explains, people generally approach relationships in one of three ways: givers, matchers or takers. Essentially, “givers” contribute to others without expecting anything in return; “matchers” tend to see things as a quid pro quo; and “takers” are looking for primarily personal benefit. Ideally, you should approach every potential interaction with a new relationship with a “giver” mentality – you’re here to learn and help without expectation of any of that help “coming back around.” This isn’t easy to start; you may find yourself, at best, with a matcher mentality. That’s ok. Try it anyway. Learning to give first can be tough, and learning to give without expectation of it ever coming back takes much longer.
I’m often asked by junior lawyers and recent grads what they can possibly provide to someone senior to them. Here’s my answer: if a more experienced professional takes time to talk with you, they want you to follow up. They want to know that they helped you. The follow up is the value you add, at least initially. Over time, you may be able to do more.
Contacting interesting people you don’t know is easier than ever before, whether by email, interacting on their blog comments, LinkedIn or Twitter (which is quickly becoming my favorite). New York Times bestselling author, Ramit Sethi, details his system for contacting people in this post, although as long as your approach is brief, genuine, and thoughtful, you should get some response.
This concept of building relationships without expectation is at the foundation of the 5 Coffee Challenge, an online business development training program that focuses on the basics – how to meet and create meaningful relationships with interesting people. We like to think of it as basic training for relationship development. Learn more here.