How to Rock Your Sabbatical

Josh Luttrell is a litigator at Tenopir & Huerter in Topeka, Kan. And for six weeks this autumn, he was the keyboard player for an electro-industrial rock band.

Luttrell had developed a friendship with En Esch, the German musician behind KMFDM, Pigface and other bands. He went to see him in concert in Kansas City in September, and the two reacquainted after the show. A few weeks later, En Esch asked Luttrell to play keyboards on a North American tour with Lords of Acid, Combichrist and Christian Death.

“I initially said thanks, but there’s no way,” said Luttrell, whose practice includes criminal defense and family law. “I told my wife, and she insisted that I do it. I figured out the logistics, went to my boss and asked if I could take six weeks off. He said you only live once.”

It may be an unconventional sabbatical, but upon his return Luttrell reported many of the benefits Harvard Business Review attributes to extended time away from the office: a decline in stress, an increase in psychological resources and stronger overall well-being.

“Employers should recognize the practice of law is demanding,” he said. “If you give attorneys a reprieve, they can bring something back that will benefit the firm.”

Harvard Business School agrees; in the studies it shares on sabbaticals, they are found to benefit not only the individual who takes them, but the organization as a whole. Sabbaticals help law firms by maintaining lawyers’ creativity and resilience, but they also provide opportunities for the colleagues to fill in, and serve as a “stress test” for the organizational chart – a meaningful reality check for succession planning.

Sabbatical programs can thrive at law firms of all sizes. Perkins Coie LLP has more than 1,000 attorneys and offers a two-month sabbatical to employees with 10 to 13 years of service. (It’s one reason the firm has been ranked among Fortune’s 100 “Best Companies to Work For.”) Meanwhile, at Hutchinson Black and Cook, LLC, a 25-lawyer firm in Colorado, partners are eligible for a full year off, at full pay, after 10 years of employment and every seventh year thereafter, according to Legal Management magazine.

“The reality is that sabbaticals are a fantastic chance to introduce clients to other attorneys in the firm,” a Hutchinson Black and Cook administrator told Legal Management. “I’ve witnessed this time and time again: attorneys come back and they just look younger – physically. It takes years off their aging.”

Whether your sabbatical is part of a formal firm program or, like Luttrell’s, a serendipity seized, manage it mindfully to make the most of it. The career site The Muse offers several tips:

Get settled. Establish your home base, and start some routines to keep you grounded – specific times for exercise, checking your email, et cetera. As The Muse notes, “Keeping certain tasks consistent can help you stay focused and efficient and establishing some familiarity can help lessen the shock of such a big change.”

Luttrell’s schedule was completely inverted – he would play concerts almost every night, then sleep on the tour bus during the day. He developed a rhythm of communication with the associates who were staffing his cases; they often touched base through text.

Get out of your comfort zone. Learn something new; try new food. Cultivate your curiosity, and remember that your sabbatical is your time for adventure, not the same old-same old.

Luttrell’s adventure took him coast to coast. In six weeks, the band traveled by bus to Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, California, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma and New Mexico. (The one constant: Burger King.)

Manage your time. At some point, the sabbatical life may start to feel like your new grind – what once was your favorite thing about a new place can become a frustration. (See: Burger King.)

Luttrell said he was surprised by the amount of work involved in the tour. “I always assumed it’s fun all the time. But you sleep, you get there, you unload, you set up, you play. It’s exhausting.”

Be proactive with your calendar; schedule things that excite you.

Document the journey. Share what you’re learning on social media. (Luttrell shared his photos on Facebook.) This is fun for your friends and family, but it also preserves it so you can meditate on it when you get home.

Recognize the experiences that are relevant to your career. Great advice from The Muse: “Try to identify experiences that utilize your skills, help you master new ones, and offer something unique to future [clients and prospects].”

Luttrell said it was “pretty handy” to have an attorney on tour: “There were contract issues with venues. There were certain times you had to deal with authorities or give advice to people; being an attorney helped.” He is considering building a niche practice on bands’ tour issues.

Return home and keep exploring. Have a purposeful plan for reintegration – catching up on correspondence, getting back into the rhythm of your legal practice, reconnecting with your friends and colleagues. Think about how to foster new contacts and skills.

“People want to work with each other again –a lot of connections are made, and a lot of conversations about what’s going to come next,” Luttrell said. “In life, it’s good to be able to go try and experience things like that. I wouldn’t say I necessarily came to my practice different, but I’m inspired to expand and take advantage of connections to do something different.”

Concert footage from Luttrell’s tour via YouTube; he is the keyboard player on the right of En Esch.

Money Talks, Part 2: The Client Perspective on Legal Budgets

The fourth quarter brings Halloween, Thanksgiving….and budget talks. In a recent survey, 72 percent of in-house counsel said they faced increased pressure to better manage legal spend; lawyers who want to keep their business must help with this task.

In Part 1, we spoke with Lizzy Duffy, a client feedback and research specialist, for tips on how lawyers can initiate constructive budget conversations. Now it’s time for the client’s perspective, courtesy of Todd Silberman, the president of General Counsel Mediations. Todd has nearly 20 years of in-house experience and has held leadership positions within the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Small Law Department Committee. His take: “Don’t put it off.”

What do you wish outside counsel knew about the business budgeting process?

Silberman: We report to someone – or several someones….and budgeting for matters can be as quick as an email or as long as waiting until all stakeholders are in the same room, focused, and actively discussing….so give as much advance notice as possible. And yes, we do continue to look at the budget compared to where the matter is currently pending.

What kind of friction exists between legal departments (which have to submit formal business budgets by 4Q, typically) and law firms (which push through rate increases in 1Q)?

Silberman: It depends on the level of partnership between the two. I always try to have a high level of trust and appreciation going both ways in partnerships with law firms. In fact, I have no problem advising a partner when their rates are low and need to be increased. Of course, that conversation is usually simpler than the opposite when advising a partner firm that their rates are not within the range of national/regional counsel in a particular area of expertise.

In a perfect world, how would law firms and legal departments work together on this important business process?

Silberman: In my world, we sit down, ideally in the same location but at least on the telephone, and discuss ALL aspects of the relationships, including budgeting. I always want this to be done at the beginning of a relationship and each matter so there is no miscommunication from the outset.

What should law firms know/recognize/do about the in-house counsel budgeting process?

Silberman: Give advance notice. Advise about any expected or actual major changes immediately – and periodically review the proposed and actual budgets with us to ensure we continue to be on the same page in terms of dollars spent as well as those to be spent going forward.

What’s your advice for how a proactive lawyer can initiate a healthy and productive budget discussion?

Silberman: Open and frank conversations with the client representative. Don’t put it off. We understand your business and hope you understand ours, as well as the goals, which may vary matter to matter. Continue to have the conversations with us as the situation/facts change so we and our stakeholders are not caught by surprise – and do not change your opinion mid-case or at the end of the case, without significant fact changes. Nothing makes us more frustrated.

Firesign Wins Public Relations Award

Eight months after launch, Firesign earned our first PRISM Award, recognition for outstanding work in public relations. The PRISMs are presented by the Greater Kansas City Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America; the 2017 awards were announced at a gala October 12 at the Uptown Theater.

Firesign won top honors in the category of editorial writing for founder Katie Hollar Barnard’s article, “Beware the Seven Deadly Sins of Attorney Bios,” which appeared in Forbes in March 2017.

A full list of PRISM winners is available here.

Photo credit: Jake Jacobson

Money Talks: How to Discuss Budgets With Your Clients

More than 70 percent of companies use the calendar year as their fiscal year, according to Audit Analytics. That means that right now – in the third quarter – your clients are budgeting for 2018. But sadly, there’s a traditional disconnect between companies and their law firms, many of whom won’t communicate about their rates until the new year….long after business budgets are finalized.

Savvy lawyers should talk to their clients during the budget process. It’s an opportunity to learn about your client’s goals and pressures, and to show that you are a true business partner. How do you do it? We visited with Elizabeth Duffy, vice president of Acritas Inc., a leader in client feedback and the force behind Sharplegal, the most comprehensive annual study of the global legal market.

In your feedback discussions and legal department research, what pain points do you hear about the annual budget process?

Duffy: In our annual general counsel survey, Sharplegal, we found that in 2016, 76 percent of general counsel are setting an annual budget. Of that number, 29 percent exceeded their budget.

In our interviews with general counsel each year, the topic of budget, cost and fees come up regularly. Where general counsel are spending more than they would in a typical year, two-thirds attribute the overspend to the unanticipated complexity of work (deals and litigation both responsible).

While it may be impossible to perfectly predict the path that a dispute may take (and therefore the ultimate cost to the client), by taking steps to help the client manage internal expectations and plan ahead for increased legal fees, the pain of the final bill will be much reduced.

We are also hearing frequently that clients are under pressure to reduce their legal spend each year too – additional pressure to protect the organization from risk on an ever-reducing budget.

What kind of friction exists between corporate legal departments (which have to submit formal business budgets by 4Q, typically) and law firms (which push through rate increases in 1Q)?

Duffy: We hear most often that clients don’t like surprises. It is important to remember that general counsel have to report to the CFO and their boards on at least a quarterly basis. While they understand that sometimes the unexpected may occur, they need to be able to get out in front of anticipated overspend and communicate early and effectively to their business partners:

  • “Everybody has individual objectives and goals based their assigned tasks.  Mine, for instance, would be the litigation that I manage, making sure it comes in under budget whenever possible. That’s not always possible, but [I can] provide guidance to subordinates, provide timely responses to the business leads who rely on us internally, things like that.”

The earlier that general counsel learn about an anticipated overspend, the better that they are able to offset the increased fees for a litigation matter that overran by pulling back on spend in other areas:

  • “There has been a cost overrun for patent litigation because we have spent over the budget, but then we compensated by reduced costs on other items; therefore, it has actually been neutral.”

In a perfect world, how would law firms and legal departments work together on this important business process?

Duffy: Law firms should be giving transparent access to all their matter bills so that a client can review at any point how much things have cost in the past and where they on current matters. At budgeting time, relationship partners should sit down with their clients and have a holistic conversation about all areas of work they could be considered for – how can they help the client to drive more value and keep control of costs. This may take a few iterations and the general counsel should brief the firm on what they have planned for the year ahead.

What should law firms know/recognize/do about the in-house counsel budgeting process?

Duffy: Start with the simple step of speaking with clients proactively to find out when their budgeting process takes place.

What’s your advice for how a proactive lawyer can initiate a healthy and productive budget discussion?

Duffy: Ideally, this should be done in person.  General counsel are increasingly sophisticated and engaging with data to measure and manage their resources, so offer them some relevant benchmarking data (for example, Acritas) to help them see if they are in line.

Save Time, Win More: Implement an RFP Checklist

A Request for Proposal can be an opportunity for new or expanded work – or it can be a waste of time for an incompatible or unprofitable client. Indeed, when it comes to RFPs, we side with BTI Consulting’s Mad Clientist: Not every opportunity is created equal.

Law firms should have “clear and decisive criteria” that helps them decide which RFPs to complete (and which to delete), says our dear Mad Clientist. A long-held best practice of other professional services firms (accounting, financial services and others), an RFP Go/No Go checklist can help generate more business, develop more long-term relationships and drive improved performance.

But how do you get started?

We visited with Elisabeth Megli, principal of Theme: Strategic Proposals, a certified proposal management professional who pioneered an RFP Go/No Go Checklist for an AmLaw 100 firm. She shared rationale and advice for implementing (and enforcing) firm criteria.

Why should a law firm make a formal process for RFP screening?

 Megli: Firms with a formal Go/No Go process more efficiently use their time and resources and will likely improve their RFP response success rate.

A Go/No Go process to evaluate RFP opportunities requires the recipients to mindfully evaluate the opportunity and potential value through questions developed by firm leadership. These questions should enable partners to make a decision more objectively, “Can they pay our rates and what competitive qualifications do we offer?” versus subjectively, “I want to respond to introduce our firm to a potential new client.”

All law firms can benefit from creating and adhering to a process for responding to RFPs. Establishing a Go/No Go process is the first step in developing a culture that creates, follows and benefits from proposal and project processes.

What’s the harm in doing every RFP that comes by? (“Can’t win if you don’t play, right?”)

 Megli: Pursuits are costly. Time is valuable. Relationships grow better with human-to-human connections than wordy paper submittals.

I recommend taking a more candid approach. Picking up the phone and explaining to an existing or potential client you are not well-suited to this RFP’s particular scope of work, but do have other capabilities and lawyers that can help their business, is more likely to open the door for an in-person meeting. An in-person meeting to introduce a practice’s capabilities is a much better environment for introductions and organic sales. Submitting RFPs as a way to get your firm’s information in front of a potential new client for the first time is harmful to your reputation and the firm’s profitability.

How do you get started outlining a Go/No Go process?

 Megli: I have three recommendations:

  1. Use available resources. Check out this sample form provided by the Society of Marketing Professional Services. Shipley Associates regularly offers free webinars on best practices for pursuit and RFP processes and strategies.
  2. Begin with a conversation between firm leadership, frequent RFP recipients, and the administrative/marketing professionals involved in RFP responses. Plan to create a form or questionnaire and simple process for evaluating RFPs. If you don’t have the necessary internal resources, hire someone who has familiarity and experience with proposal best practices. Ask around and see if other firms have already established a Go/No Go process and can share some suggestions. They may even share their process or questions with you.
  3. Begin drafting your firm’s checklist by identifying the key factors you want to evaluate. This could be any combination of several factors – client familiarity and experience, project scope and relevant capabilities, profitability and required resources, client’s decision-making process and knowledge of decision-makers, the strength of your strategy, whether the cost to respond and maintain the relationship exceeds the value of the work.

A few strategic questions to consider:

  • Who is the competition?
  • Is our experience stronger than our competitors?
  • Does our experience match the client’s needs and expectations?
  • Can we claim some experience, strength or tool that our competitors cannot?

On the checklist, do you advocate an objective (points/criteria) or a subjective approach?

Megli: I advocate an objective approach. For example, a firm that has three options for each criterion can assign a points value to a multiple-choice answer. This eliminates impassioned pleas or demands to “respond to introduce ourselves.” Responding to an RFP to simply serve as an introduction to your firm when you’re not positioned to win will likely do more damage than good. An objective approach draws a line where no line previously existed. There will be growing pains as leadership makes tough decisions when a “no-go” decision is made, but establishing boundaries will help your firm to grow strategically, not haphazardly.

Once a checklist is in place, how do you evaluate success?

Megli: Do a six-month check-in: Is the process consistently used? Has it eliminated pain points for lawyers, business development teams and firm leadership? Does the team feel the dollars spent were wisely invested? Has your rate of success improved?

A telling factor is to compare your win rate before and after the process is implemented. If you are vetting each opportunity, collecting the right information, and implementing a strategic proposal plan, you should end up with stronger proposal responses and a higher win rate.

Modern Media Tips: Working with Reporters in the 24-Hour News Cycle

Every interaction with the media is an opportunity to showcase your work and expertise. And in the age of Google, when stories live forever, every article can build or bust your personal brand.

It’s critical for attorneys to know how to work with reporters effectively and respectfully. This becomes harder as in-person interviews become less frequent; the 24-hour news cycle keeps reporters on constant deadline.

How do you make your interviews productive and successful? We provided some insight for Forbes on the modern rules of media engagement (full story here).

One major takeaway: Have some empathy.

Reporters are now expected to do far more with fewer resources … [In] a survey conducted by Indiana University, 62.6% say their organization’s workforce has shrunk. Only 23.3% of journalists report being “very satisfied” with their careers, down 10% from 10 years earlier.

“Journalists today are asked to do five times more than they did 10 years ago,” said Aarti Maharaj, director of communications and executive editor of Ethisphere. “Today, rather than investigating a story, conducting interviews and writing for the morning paper, they are asked to write one story for the paper, two for the website and also do a video report.

“Their time is precious, so interviewees should exercise courtesy by being mindful.”

And as always, be prepared, be prompt and be ethical.

Write With Clarity: A New-School App, An Old-School Guide

There’s often a disconnect in legal writing. More than 70 percent of legal clients say it’s a struggle to understand their lawyers’ documents, according our friends at the New Zealand Law Society. Closer to home, in the Mississippi Law Journal, Jonathan Michael Barnes writes that most Americans have an eighth-grade level of reading comprehension, but jury instructions are written for twelfth grade or higher.

“When juries miscomprehend the law they disingenuously apply it to their determinations of fact, either by unknowingly misapplying it, or by relying on sociological and behavioral mechanisms to make up for their lack of comprehension,” he states.

In other words, they mess up.

From court documents to client proposals, clarity is paramount. Here are two tools – one new-school, one old-school – to help you achieve it. is a dynamite online resource that analyzes copy – pasted text, uploaded documents or URLs. Within seconds, it delivers robust analysis, including:

  • Readability scores
  • Keyword densities (important for website writing)
  • Reading and speaking time (speaking of juries)
  • Passive voice vs. active voice
  • Sentiment analysis – positive, negative or neutral
  • Gender voice – male or female
  • Sentence length
  • Use of clichés

It’s a very helpful app for making complex ideas simple – and if you’re Type A at all, there’s a joy in watching your scores improve as you make edits in real time.

Going back about 100 years, The Kansas City Star style guide is a no-muss, no-fuss set of rules for concise language. Ernest Hemingway, who went on from the Star to win a Nobel Prize in literature, described the newspaper’s instructions as “the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing.”

The opening salvo is worth committing to memory:

  • Use short sentences;
  • Use short first paragraphs;
  • Use vigorous English;
  • Be positive, not negative.

There are many other gems, among them:

  • Eliminate every superfluous word.
  • Don’t say “He had his leg cut off in an accident.” He wouldn’t have had it one for anything.
  • “He suffered a broken leg in a fall,” not “he broke his leg in a fall.” He didn’t break the leg, the fall did.
  • Both simplicity and good taste suggest house rather than residence, and lives rather than resides.
  • Such words as “tots,” “urchins,” “mites of humanity” are not to be used in writing of children. In such cases, where “kid” conveys the proper shading and fits the story, it is permissible.

A reproduction of the rules (including some 1915 insensitivities) is available here.

Remember Your Reception Area is Marketing, Too

“Client service” is often cited as a differentiator for lawyers and law firms, but seldom do we think about its front line: the reception area. Because it’s a face-to-face action, a visit to your reception area will tell your clients more about your firm than a clever tagline or snazzy logo ever could.

Are you selling your firm as creative and innovative, but greeting your visitors with stodgy furniture and magazines from the Carter Administration? Worse, are you touting “exceptional client service” in your marketing materials, only to leave clients cold and ignored in a sterile waiting room?

It’s time to align your reception area with your brand. (Unless your brand is “rude and outdated,” of course.) Some tips to make your best first impression:

  • Create a relaxing environment. Visiting a law firm is often a stressful experience; show some empathy by taking that into account, as well as the inherent obnoxiousness of waiting. In “The Psychology of Waiting,” Psychology Today shares that “occupied time feels shorter.” Give visitors reading materials, television or music. (Don’t turn the TV to political fare or unpredictable reality programming. When it comes to music, think instrumental and mellow.)
  • Coordinate a welcome. Let your reception staff know your meeting schedule and empower them to greet your visitors. Hearing “Oh yes, you’re here to meet with Jane Doe, she is expecting you” is so much nicer than the old “And you are?” If you do not have anyone stationed at the desk, make a sign with a greeting and instructions for your visitors; they should not wonder what they are supposed to do.
  • Manage expectations. Psychology Today also reports that uncertainty makes waiting seem longer. If the attorney or paralegal will be late to the appointment, the greeter should apologize and give a reasonable estimate for arrival.
  • Tend to technology. The Lawyerist recommends providing a charging station with universal cables and a guest Wi-Fi network.
  • Consider the kiddos. Sometimes life happens, and your clients will have their children with them. As The Lawyerist points out, “If you don’t plan for children, they will always be disruptive … with a little planning, you can minimize the disruption.” Keep some emergency crayons or blocks on hand. Parents will thank you.
  • Remember who you are. What’s your firm identity, and how can the reception area support that? If you are an authoritative corporate firm, national business magazines make sense. If you’re serving startups, think “Shark Tank.” Just like your brochures or website, your reception area should back up the brand.

Above all, be human: Think about your own pet peeves when you visit a doctor or accountant, and try to avoid those. For fun, I asked my Facebook friends what irritated them about reception areas. The major offenders:

  • “A bowl of that awful hard candy assortment that features butterscotch and those gross strawberry things, pens with plastic flowers attached, weird magazines.”
  • “Cheap-looking fake plants, especially if they haven’t been dusted. Same goes for live plants. If they are dead, don’t have them out.”
  • “Oldies music played too loud.”
  • “No coffee at 9 a.m.”
  • “Magazines in bad shape, like torn or with the address labels cut off, like they came from someone’s house.”
  • “The pens with the stupid flowers. For *&%$’s sake, we’re not going to steal your *&%$ pens. That tells us you don’t trust your clients.”
  • “Flower pens. And waiting forever. And old or regionally specific magazines. Bad or slow wifi.”

The flower pens hit a collective nerve, to be sure, but one commenter made the most meaningful point: “Would it be a big deal to acknowledge someone’s presence and greet them? Would you walk past a guest in your house and not speak to them? People in your reception areas are guests.”

Photo credit: Chair, © 2016 Dean Hochman via Creative Commons.  All rights reserved.

Do You Know This Lawyer?

If any of these sound familiar, we should talk.

  • “It’s just not enough to be a good lawyer anymore. There’s so much competition.”
  • “I want to do more of the work I want to do, not what I feel like I have to do.”
  • “I want to do more marketing, but I’m not sure where to begin.”
  • “I know there’s potential for this idea/practice/industry niche, but I don’t know how to get it started.”

As a legal professional, you face a market that has shifted dramatically; you are now expected to market, develop business and do a lot more than practice law. We understand your stress, and we want to help. We are excited to introduce Cultivate.Legal, a year-long program that provides attorneys with sales coaching, marketing support and a strategic focus on practice development.

What is Cultivate.Legal?

In short, the purpose of Cultivate.Legal is to help attorneys achieve long-term, sustainable growth by fostering the right relationships and building the right reputations in a facilitated peer-to-peer learning environment.

The basics:

  • Cultivate.Legal runs for one year. We are accepting applications for the inaugural session, scheduled to run August 2017 through July 2018.
  • Every month, members meet as a group for a session of instructional programming, followed by group discussion.
  • Every month, participants also receive one hour of coaching. This hour-long session focuses on individual needs, planning and execution.
  • The session is limited to 12 attorneys. Participants receive practice group exclusivity (i.e., one real estate attorney, one employment attorney, et cetera) to limit competition and encourage referrals.

Participants will:

  • Develop a vision for their practice (and a comprehensive business development plan to get there)
  • Assess their current client rosters, pipelines and marketing activity
  • Refine and roll out their personal brands
  • Learn how to generate more referrals
  • Improve their cross-selling approach (and ability to be cross-sold)
  • Strengthen their skills in the sales process, from introductions to follow-up to closing
  • Understand the client perspective and key techniques for client feedback and retention
  • Create proposals and pitches that win
  • Create marketing communications that deliver

Who Is It For?

This program is designed for law firm partners who want to grow their individual books, their practice groups, their industry teams or their offices. They have the ability and bandwidth to implement new ideas at their firms, and they are able to commit to attending at least nine of 12 group sessions and meeting once a month with their coaches, both in Kansas City.

Why Cultivate.Legal?

Cultivate.Legal is a collaboration between two experts in professional services marketing. Together, we have a mastery of the “air war” of marketing communications and the “ground war” of business development, and we are driven to help attorneys win.

Breandan Filbert is the managing partner of SalezWORKS, and she is passionate about building business. With more than 18 years of experience as a sales person, director, coach and trainer, Breandan’s expertise in sales training, mentoring, planning and strategy has generated more than $135 million in new business for clients across a range of industries. An accomplished sales professional with an outstanding track record, she works with lawyers and other professionals to leverage the power of sales referrals to grow their businesses.

Katherine (Katie) Hollar Barnard is the CEO of Firesign, which helps attorneys attract, win and retain business. She draws upon more than 10 years of experience at two of the nation’s largest law firms to build legal brands that connect and business plans that deliver. She has earned industry recognition for branding, practice development, websites, internal programs and other tactics; in 2017, BTI Consulting named her team as one “other firms don’t want to pitch against.”

Would you like to apply? Would you like more information? Contact us today.

How to Make That Last-Minute CLE a Networking Tool

So you’ve put off your Continuing Legal Education requirements until the last minute, and now you find yourself sitting in a ballroom with your fellow procrastinators. Perhaps it’s not the most interesting presentation, or perhaps it’s totally unrelated to your practice, but you’re going to be there for several hours – how do you turn this into helpful networking?

I spoke with Kelly Hoey, a recovering lawyer and the author of Build Your Dream Network, an exceptionally helpful guide to building professional connections in the hashtag era. Kelly had several ideas on how to use a last-minute CLE session to further your personal brand and your network.

How can you turn a potentially irrelevant CLE into smart networking time?

Here are some quick ideas to use this to your advantage:

  • Add a little personalization or humor to your standard out-of-office message notifying clients/contacts that you’re taking care of your CLE – this can be a conversation-starter.
  • Proactively email the clients/contacts you’d likely hear from while you’re out of the office to let them know you pushed it off as long as you could, but CLE is taking front seat so you can continue to represent them in the coming year!
  • Recognize that you are likely not alone in leaving CLE to the last moment, so introduce yourself to others at the program (misery does love company after all).
  • Keep an open mind; you may learn something from the seemingly irrelevant CLE program and that can be turned into content…then shared with your network via a blog post or newsletter or LinkedIn update.

How can you network in a classroom setting when everyone is there to sit and learn?

Remember your networking time extends beyond the physical space that you’re sitting in. Networking is every human interaction! Picking up on the tips above: Update your voice mail message, change your out-of-office responder, let your office receptionist or admin assistant know where you are (give them a script to tell clients/contacts where you are and how to reach you that day), and/or share an update on LinkedIn detailing the CLE you’re attending. You may discover a connection is in the same CLE boat and arrange to meet during the session.

What’s a good way to introduce yourself and engage with the conference speakers?

My suggestion is to review the speakers’ bios in advance, and if there is someone you’re interested in continuing a conversation with, hand them your card before the program begins (people rarely talk to speakers before they speak). Offer your card with a brief “I look forward to your remarks and would love to speak with you at a later time, as I suspect you’ll be bombarded after the session.” Alternatively, reach out to them with a personalized note on LinkedIn to connect. Remember to personalize that request to connect on LinkedIn, such as by adding a reference to the CLE session and the insight or takeaway you found valuable.

What are good networking goals for a CLE program?

CLE is about information and learning, so start your networking there. Are there insights from the program you can share with your clients or colleagues back at the office? How about content for a LinkedIn article (FYI – general counsel use LinkedIn to enhance their own careers, to keep in touch with outside counsel and to get their business and professional news – so create some content from the CLE program with them in mind).

You can learn more about Kelly (and subscribe to her newsletter) here