As a freelance attorney, you’re working for other attorneys (doing work they’re too busy to do or don’t want to do for some reason). How are you going to get clients? You guessed it! You have to meet other attorneys who might need your services. Yep, it’s the dreaded networking game.
Have Your Elevator Speech Ready to Go
Everyone needs a good “elevator speech” to succinctly explain who they are and what they can offer. As a freelance attorney, you might say something like, “Hello, I’m Alison Monahan. I’m a freelance attorney, and I help other attorneys who specialize in civil litigation do the work they have no time for.” Short, sweet, and to the point, but it conveys your value proposition in a nutshell.
Think About Who You Want to Meet
Although you might work for a variety of different attorneys as a freelancer, it’s important to think about who you want to meet and where those people are. Meeting law firm associates, for example, probably isn’t going to help. Why? Because they’re not in a position to hire you. Meeting the partner at a small firm, however, can pay off in spades, because that person is busy, stressed out, and able to pay you.
Get Out There
At some point, you’re probably going to have to leave the house to get clients. If you want to focus on litigation support, start hanging around the courthouse and chatting with attorneys. Inevitably, someone will probably need a hearing covered or other work done. Say yes. Attending networking events with other lawyers, at the bar association or elsewhere, can be useful, but don’t forget about non-legal-specific networks, such as the Chamber of Commerce or Toastmasters. Even in these more general groups, there are likely to be some lawyers, and they might be more receptive to chatting with you when there’s less competition. Another valuable (and often overlooked) source of work is in-person CLE events. You need to do continuing legal education in most states anyway, so why not go to an in-person CLE on a topic of interest, and see who’s there. For this to work, of course, you actually need to speak with other people in the room, and not just doze through the presentation. An all-day event can be useful since you’ll have ideal networking time at lunch, as well as before and after the sessions. Your school can also be a valuable source of help, and they might be willing to put you in touch with specific alumni you’d like to meet (as well as hosting networking events for alums). Ultimately, doing something is the most critical step! Any option you chose that gets you out talking to people can only help.
Cultivate Your Referral Network
The legal world is small, and a good percentage of your work, after your first few clients, is likely to come through referrals. Make sure that you’re keeping your referral network happy and thinking of you. If someone sends you a referral, follow up with a thank you card or gift. But don’t forget the value of an ongoing coffee or lunch date, to ensure you’re top-of-mind when that “I’m swamped. Do you know anyone who could help out for a few weeks?” call comes in.
Ask for Work
Lawyers aren’t trained to sell, and “making the ask” can be difficult for new freelance lawyers. But, if you don’t ask, you’re unlikely to get work. Practice by yourself, then on a trusted friend, until the phrase, “Do you have any work I might be able to help with?” rolls off your tongue whenever the situation calls for it. Don’t be shy! Make the ask.