Dear LiL – How do I get ahead if I don’t like traditionally male marketing activities like hockey and golf? Signed ~ The Big Schmooze
Dear The Big Schmooze:
When I was first called to the Bar, there were seemingly three business development activities you could do with a client that the firm would approve no questions asked – a lunch, a hockey game or a round of golf. Unlike most of my male colleague, I do not play golf or enjoy hockey. This left me with lunch as the only option. At that time, there were no spa outings, winery tours, group fitness events, cooking classes, art exhibitions, and other types of organized marketing and business development activities that I would actually enjoy and that did not involve drinking alcohol or playing/watching a largely male dominated sport. I would be lying if I said that I was not bitter and annoyed at what I perceived to be a subtle but clear message – I had to learn to like these things, pretend to like them, or be left behind as my male colleagues made meaningful relationship with clients on the golf course.
Fast forward ten years into my practice, I still don’t care for golf or hockey, or drinking at lunch other than the very occasional glass of wine. I have a thriving practice, and a lot of my clients are men with whom I have great relationships. I have never taken any of them to a hockey game or played a round of golf with them. But, I know how old their kids are, when and where they go on their holidays, and what they really want from their lawyer. This may not resonate with everyone, and certainly many will not agree, but, in my experience, client schmoozing in a traditional way is outdated and unnecessary. I have found that there has been a tremendous shift in what is now an acceptable and desirable form of business development. The days of boozy lunches, golfing sunburns and hockey games followed by three hour long dinners seem to be long gone. I have learned that my clients do not actually want to spend their limited free time socializing with me. What they want is an email with a brief update on a key development in the law and how it impacts them, followed up on, maybe, with a phone call. They seem to appreciate my spending a few minutes before and after we talk about their file, to ask about their families, business, home renovations, hobbies and holiday plans. Some like getting local restaurant recommendations (where they will go with their actual friends and family). They welcome a presentation (at their office, at a time that works for them). They will entertain a lunch, on their turf, and for not more than an hour and a half. A few of my clients whom I have known for years really enjoy a curated holiday gift basket, and the phone call I will make during the holiday season to thank them for their business. And, there are a few, whom I actually call friends, who will take me up on a dinner, an art exhibition or a spa day. So, if you are starting out in your legal career, and feel that you have to adapt or become someone you are not to get ahead, you do not. Being a damn good lawyer, being responsive and engaged, providing real value and the occasional useful free thing, and not unnecessarily imposing on your clients’ free time are enough.