From time to time I get a run of similar clients with similar problems. As it happens, now is one of those times. At the last count, I am working with 4 lawyers who are all involved in deal making, i.e. M&A, Private Equity, Financing. These lawyers are spread all over the globe, so this isn’t just a UK problem. They all need to establish their referral network. This is because the route to generating work for deal makers is typically via an introducer or referral network. This blog post looks at a particular and common mindset which holds deal makers (whether lawyers or not) from building up a strong referral or introducer network.

Why is establishing a referral network essential for M&A or Corporate Finance Lawyers?

The reality of being a lawyer who is involved in M&A or corporate finance, is that the workload is very lumpy. When a deal tends to come in, it tends to be big and will ‘feed’ you and your potential team for weeks or possibly months. However, the unpredictable nature of deals means that you can’t just ring up a prospect and ask them ‘have you got any potential deals coming up?’. Winning deals as an M&A lawyer or financing specialist lawyer, means being in the right place at the right time. This means establishing a referral network which can reliably bring you into a deal at just the right time.

What stops deal making or M&A lawyers from building up this network of introducers?

There are many factors which stop deal makers from building up this network. The first one is simply based around time. In a world where you are either full on with work or not, a busy deal stream means you often don’t feel you have the time to prioritise relationship building with your network. Secondly, you may not have been nudged by your partners or line managers to build and nurture a network. So when it comes to the point when you need to bring in your own deals in order to make Legal Director or Partner, you find that you have 2-3 years of network and relationship building to catch up on. But lastly, I have now coached so many lawyers around this issue: it comes down to mindset; or should I say, not wanting to look vulnerable or desperate by proactively contacting potential introducers to suggest meeting for a coffee. (As an aside, always ask for a short phone call or coffee as a way of starting a dialogue with a potential referrer. These days, busy people tend not to have time for lunch!) LinkedIn is a great way to get in contact with potentially good referrers and if you get your targeting right, most prospective introducers, if they are able to refer you, will probably agree to a conversation. The other thing is, what’s the worst that can happen if you make contact with someone via LinkedIn and suggest meeting up? The worst is that probably you get ignored! This fear of looking desperate or vulnerable, in my experience, is often the number one reason why we don’t get back in contact with other advisors who we have worked with on deals in the past or why we don’t proactively contact well placed introducers. As a result, we stifle out our ability to build a strong referral network around us. The reality is that a potentially well-placed introducer will normally welcome such a contact as they need to normally extend their network of contacts who can send them work. It normally works both ways or they need a selected group of advisors who they trust to send work to. They may not always need to have referrals back in return.

In summary:

Pride (or the fear of looking desperate) shouldn’t come into building a referral network around you. These are self limiting beliefs. There is no shame in proactively reaching out to people with a view to see whether there is room to send work to each other. In other words, be brave! Who can you contact today to suggest meeting up for a coffee?

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