Don’t Suck at Networking Lunches

New solo attorneys consistently have problems with two aspects of running a business: finances and marketing.

Finances are just numbers and can always be outsourced to an accountant.

Face to face meetings with other attorneys is the best way to build your professional network.

If you follow these four rules, you can do a dang good job.

Rule 1: be yourself

This is the easiest rule to follow and also the one that so many people screw up. Look, you’re not going to become best friends with everyone you have lunch with. Frankly, you probably (and hopefully) already have some good friends.

If you relax and let your personality come through, you will develop natural connections and professional relationships with people. If you pretend to be someone else, you will either naturally mesh with nobody, or people that you don’t actually like. Even if you can fake it for one meeting, it will eventually becoming tiring for you and/or obvious to the other person that you do not actually get along very well. And that is not helpful.

The bottom line is that you need to relax and be yourself. Don’t waste your time trying to meet the other person’s preconceived notions. You will create much more meaningful relationships (and have more enjoyable lunches) if you let your personality through. And if you don’t become best buddies with everyone, that’s ok.

Rule 2: if you don’t want to be there, cancel

I reschedule lunches fairly regularly. I wish I didn’t, but I do. It’s a bad combination of being an only child (I do what I want) and being a solo litigator (10,000 things need to happen this afternoon).

If I’m distracted or stressed out with something, going to lunch will be a waste of everyone’s time. I won’t be myself (see Rule 1), which means I’m not going to even give myself a chance to connect with anyone. Even if I’m myself, but I’m distracted, it will be fairly obvious, and very off putting/

I get incredibly annoyed when I have lunch with someone that shows up late, leaves early, and checks their phone twenty times during lunch. Those also tend to be the people who abruptly say—“hey, I’d really love to get your referrals for _____.” Yeah, ok. I’ll be sure to send my clients to an individual with no personal skills and zero respect for other people’s time.

Canceling last minute is not great. But if you don’t want to go, just explain why and ask to reschedule. In most cases, if you ask to reschedule, they will not hold it against you. But most people will hold it against you if waste their time by showing up and staring at your phone.

Rule 3: follow up

Assuming you got along with your lunch partner, the goal is to develop a relationship. I don’t care how much fun you had, if you only meet someone once, that is not a relationship.

Send a thank you note a week later. Or if you’re lazy, send a follow up e-mail. Do something to keep building that bridge. Put a reminder on your calendar to check in with them in a a month or two. Then go have lunch again, or go to happy hour.

My strongest professional relationships were built that way. I may have only gone out to lunch a handful of times with a person, but a handful is much different than once. I am constantly shocked by how many people think that one lunch = best friends. As in, those people continually come knocking at my door asking for favors. Or they act like we are best friends, which is just weird.

I’ll bend over backwards for my friends and for colleagues that I respect. But I probably won’t open a can of pickles for someone that thinks we’re “besties” after they awkwardly begged me for referrals one time over lunch.

Rule 4: if you ask someone to lunch, plan on buying

Let me clear about this: I have no problem paying for lunch. I keep overhead low, but I also recognize the value in spending money.

I do have a problem when someone asks me to lunch, stares at their phone, and expects me to pick up the tab. That has happened on more than one occasion and it’s annoying, rude, and creates an incredibly bad impression.

If you want someone’s thoughts on practice management, or marketing, or questions about a case, picking up the tab is a nice gesture of “I appreciate your time.” Looking around the room when the check comes is not very impressive.

I also have a large exception to this rule. As long as I can remember, anytime a law student or recent grad wants to grab coffee or lunch, I try and pick up the tab. For the most part, other attorneys did that for me, so it’s only polite to repay the favor.

If there’s any doubt, at least offer to split it. That’s still better than “having to take an important call” when the check comes. If you’re more interested in saving $10 bucks, you probably should not be doing networking lunches to begin with.


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