Getting the Most from Conferences

Or, how to make conference attendance an effective and productive use of your time, energy and resources

GIVEN THE WIDE array of approaches to business development available to today’s lawyers, many may wonder whether conference attendance will provide a good return on investment.

Although conferences provide opportunities to connect with a large number of people in a short period of time (and may also be used toward continuing legal education requirements), they can also require an outlay of resources that can be significant. And, of course, time spent in attendance must also be considered in terms of its impact on billable hours.

But even when financial costs are high, the benefits of attending can be more than enough to outweigh the costs provided that one uses the right strategy and approach.

Know Who Will Be There

The single most important consideration in deciding whether to attend a conference for networking and marketing purposes is who will be in attendance.

A business case can only be made for attending if the other attendees are members of one of your target markets. This may include individuals (and entities) who are clients or potential clients, or who have access to potential clients and can influence the choices of those potential clients.

It is also important to know what positions and responsibilities typical delegates hold within their organizations; if they are not decision-makers or influencers in selecting law firms or counsel, their business-development potential will naturally be restricted.

It’s Not Just About Being There

To maximize your return on investment, execute a three-phase plan for before, during and after the event.

> Preconference Planning: Review the delegate and speaker list in advance, identify specific individuals you are interested in and conduct research on those of interest, look for points of connection that exist between you and/or your firm and those you hope to connect with, and contact those individuals in advance to with a view to arranging a time to meet).

> At the Conference: Participate in sessions and social events, network, keep track of whom you meet and what you have learned about them, make decisions about who to follow up with, and record any ideas that you have related to those you meet.

> Post-Conference Follow Up: Follow up with those you met at the conference (and follow up with those you hoped to meet but didn’t) and find ways to maintain an active and ongoing connection with them.

Plan to Participate in a Big Way

It goes without saying that there is little to be gained from a business-development standpoint by attending a conference and keeping to yourself, or sticking closely to other members of your firm. To take full advantage of your attendance, you must be highly engaged in connecting with people you know and those you don’t know.

Attend events outside of the substantive educational sessions, and, if possible, participate in a conference in ways that will enhance your visibility and profile. This may include joining committees that plan and organize the conference, or securing a spot as a presenter.

One-time Attendance Isn’t Enough

One of the best ways to benefit from conference attendance is to attend the same conference every year. One-time connections tend not to bear fruit, while relationships developed over time, with multiple points of connection, are more likely to lead to work. As conferences typically attract the same people year after year, each time you attend you will see more familiar faces and be able to build on what you have already established.

Be Patient Results Come Over the Long Term

It is highly unusual for work to flow directly and immediately from a single conference attendance. As discussed above, developing relationships with others is long term undertaking, and regular conference attendance can go a long way toward helping you develop solid relationships with others who you might not otherwise have occasion to connect with or spend time with.

In conclusion, don’t make the mistake of thinking that a conference is a waste of resources if you don’t come back to the office with a new file or two. Thoughtfully planned and executed conference attendance can be a highly effective and productive part of your business development plan.

Donna Wannop, LLB, MBA, is a practice development coach who has worked exclusively with the legal profession for over 30 years. Reach her at donna@donnawannop.com; www.donnawannopcom.