Inefficiency is Your Networking Best Friend

Everything about lunches with referral sources is inefficient.

It’s tempting to automate, delegate and outsource some of the logistics in order to achieve greater efficiency.

Don’t do it.

Lunches are money in the bank

The shortest path from here to increased revenues is lunch.

Most lawyers deal with frequent requests for referrals. It happens in the office, it happens at home, it happens while you’re sitting under a tree waiting for the kid to finish t-ball practice.

“You’re a lawyer … who should I call about (the surgical instrument she left inside me/the tax evasion indictment/the car wreck/my divorce/buying a business/whatever)?”

Building relationships with other lawyers is magic, and more often than not, those relationships happen at lunch. Instead of rabbits being pulled from hats, the magic is referrals from other lawyers directly to you.

I’ve pushed you to take people to lunch a thousand times. I’ve created a course on building your referral source network, to teach you how to do it. I’ve ranted and raved, poked and prodded, pushed and shoved you to get to know other professionals over a meal.

You already know I believe (and mostly you agree with me) that building your professional network by taking people to lunch is the most effective and efficient path to growing a practice in nearly every practice area.

You’re doing it and I love you for it. I’m proud of you. Keep it up.

But you’d like it to be easier, faster, and more convenient

You’re tempted to change something and I’m here to stop you.

You’re tempted to delegate the lunch arrangements to someone on your team. Of course, it’s very cool that growing your network has allowed you to grow your team. I’m impressed.

Now you’re busy. You feel too busy to be bothered with the mundane, boring, tedious aspects of setting up lunch.

I get it. I hear you. The back-and-forth is an annoying, time-consuming hassle. She emails, you email back, she leaves a voicemail, you return the call, and on and on. Sometimes setting up one little lunch can take a month.

You want to assign it to someone in your office, or hire a virtual assistant in the Philippines to do the back-and-forth.

You may be tempted to use something like Calendly to automate the scheduling process. It would be nice if your lunch date could visit a webpage, pick a date and time, and have the lunch automatically appear on both of your calendars.

You’re not alone. Every lawyer would like like to spend less time going back and forth to schedule. You’d like to avoid the inevitable hassle of rescheduling when your lunch date has to change the plan for the second, third, maybe even fourth time.

Scheduling lunch dates is a legitimate pain in the gluteus maximus.

Don’t give in to temptation: embrace the difficulty

Automating or delegating the process will definitely make scheduling more efficient. It’ll be easier to arrange lunch. Your plan is smart if efficiency is the objective.

But efficiency isn’t the objective here. Neither is lunch–the goal is the relationship.

You lose something when you delegate, or automate, the interaction of arranging lunch. You lose part of the relationship.

Relationships aren’t efficient. In fact, if we made our relationships efficient, we’d mostly stop having relationships.

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Relationships are almost entirely inefficient. Relationships form in exactly the moments when things aren’t getting done. They happen in the cracks. Relationships are a mix of communication, proximity, and trust. Relationships grow as you go through things together.

It happens when he has to drive you back to the office because your car won’t start. It happens when you explain why there’s spit-up on your suit. It happens when she has to tell you that there’s ketchup on your nose.

Trust grows as schedules change

Relationships even grow as you navigate the scheduling of lunch.

It turns out that she can’t be there Thursday because her grandfather died. You might not have heard that news if she’d canceled on Calendly.

He can’t make it because his son punched a teacher and he has to go to an urgent conference in the principal’s office.

She won’t be coming because her big case got set for trial earlier than expected.

He needs to cancel because his best friend is getting a divorce.

It’s the conversations, the back-and-forth, that build the relationship. Even canceling lunch, rescheduling, rescheduling again–that inefficiency contributes to the growing connection and trust. By the time you have your first lunch, you may feel as if you already know one another because so much has come out during the process of getting the lunch on the calendar.

When you disengage from the lunch calendaring process, you lose out. You skip over the inefficient cracks that are basis of the relationship.

Think back to some of those rescheduling interactions

I sat here racking my brain for the details of some of these conversations over the years.

I’ve learned about more than deaths, illnesses, and work-related conflicts.

I’ve learned of family vacation plans, purchases of new houses, job changes, and the opening of new practices.

I’ve been asked for advice about children, marriages, business decisions, and relationships–all during conversations that were originally about rescheduling.

I suspect that much of what has been revealed, and much of what I’ve revealed, wouldn’t have been discussed between us had we not been forced to connect about changing the lunch date. Trust grew because we didn’t have an efficient, orderly, automated system.

Because I’m inefficient, I’m present in the other person’s life during the event if we have to interact to get our schedules coordinated. I make sure to follow up on the issue when we actually find the time to meet.

Here’s what you can automate

It’s okay to automate some parts of the process, if automation has the potential to enhance the relationship. Pull out all the stops and blast your technology laser zapper on the following:

1. Tickler/Reminder system

A perfect use of technology is tracking your interactions so you’ll know when you’ve gone too long between conversations. You need to know when it’s time to schedule the next lunch.

A rudimentary system involves placing recurring items on your task list or scheduling reminders on your calendar. There are, however, many specialized applications that are perfectly suited to managing your relationships, so you’ll always know when it’s time to engage.

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2. Note taking

As your referral network grows it’s impossible to remember every detail of every person with whom you’re maintaining a relationship.

Documenting each call and each lunch date with notes regarding the interaction is essential. It’s embarrassing, and not particularly compassionate, to sit down at lunch and immediately launch into condolences for the loss of her father only to realize that it was the other “Lisa” who lost a parent. Oops.

3. Restaurant booking

Feel free to go 100% tech geek and connect your calendar system to an automated restaurant booking system. Have it automatically reserve the best table. Feel free to place your order, pay the bill, and have flowers delivered automatically.

Certain kinds of automation are fine. They’re helpful, they save you time, and they ensure that you show up where and when you’re supposed to.

Automate like a maniac when it supports the relationship. Just be careful not to replace the relationship with automatic systems.

Scheduling lunch is not about lunch

The objective is to get to know your lunch companion–it’s not about the lunch.

Knowing them means knowing about their lives: their ups, downs, joys, sadnesses and challenges. Avoiding contact–by delegating or automating the scheduling–has the opposite effect. You don’t hear the news, get the updates, or pick up on the subtle cues.
When you need to schedule a dental cleaning, a car inspection, or an exterminator visit–be efficient. Delegate or automate it to the greatest extent possible.

But don’t do that with your referral sources.

Your relationship with these folks isn’t about the spinach salad or the club sandwich, and it’s certainly not about ticking a box on your checklist so you don’t have to think about it for exactly 89 more days.

The relationship is about contact, connection, engagement, involvement, understanding, empathy, and friendship.

It’s messy and inefficient, just like the other relationships in your life.

They need to be able to trust you with their most valuable asset–their reputation. When they refer to you, they’re putting themselves on the line. They need to really know you in order to trust you that much. That only comes through repeated conversations, interactions, and ever deeper revelations.

Inefficiency in a relationship isn’t a bad thing. The best relationships are inefficient. Stop being annoyed by the back-and-forth of scheduling lunch.

The scheduling of lunch is part of building a stronger bond. Know that it’s all part of the plan, and that spending more time interacting makes the relationship grow. That’s how you’ll grow your practice.

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