It depends. Lawyers can build solid portions of their practices from such groups, but as often as not quit them in frustration.
The group needs to be cohesive, which is achieved by having members of similar in age, educational background, income, occupational prestige and marital status. These are the research-proven criteria for the strong professional bonds and trust that give rise to referrals in white collar America, according to networking guru Dr. Ronald Burt, former chair of the sociology department at Columbia University.
Among the lawyers we work with, leads groups provide mixed results. That’s because chapters or groups are created by simply filling categories, sometimes with less than ideal focus on the characteristics that Burt identified in his research as creating cohesiveness. We recommend when you are invited, see if you like the meeting format, because it does vary from organization to organization. Determine whether you can make the time commitment. Some groups meet monthly, more meet bi-monthly, some weekly.
Twice monthly or weekly is the optimal meeting frequency. You have to attend nearly all the meetings for it to work well. Attending intermittently means missed opportunities for all group members, and that’s just not fair and won’t create the requisite trust that leads to a referral.
When you first attend the group try to discern if you will be able to make introductions to your clients and referral sources of the members with confidence, and would expect those present to be able to reciprocate substantively. It’s important to recognize attorneys get fewer “leads” than most members of these groups and that consumer and smaller legal issues will be the most common referrals.
The more business owners and decision-makers -- as opposed to sales people -- present in the group, the better. In most cases you can attend a group twice before joining and paying dues.
For attorneys, the key categories to have “filled” in such groups are:
- Commercial and residential real estate brokers
- Commercial and personal insurance brokers
- A CPA
- Wealth advisor/trust officer
- Banker– preferably private banker versus commercial
- Mortgage brokers.
In other words, people occupying positions (or clearly on their way to occupying such positions) like those who already refer work to your law firm. Oh yes, it likely will be months before you get your first worthwhile lead.