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Why Podcasting Is an Introverted Lawyer’s Dream Networking Tool

The last time I went to an in-person networking event — over a year ago thanks to COVID-19 — I remember sitting in my car and giving myself a pep talk. “This is a party. Go inside and enjoy it. This is a party. Go inside and enjoy it,” I repeated over and over again to myself.

Michelle Calcote King

While I’m the life of a party when I’m with my friends, I loathe networking events and dread small talk. Instead, I enjoy substantive conversations and don’t know how to achieve meaty, engaging discussions with people I don’t know very well. Thus, the topics stay in the weather and cute-things-my-dog-did-today categories. I inevitably go home exhausted and dreading the next time I have to discuss the weather with strangers while snacking on a charcuterie board.

I don’t consider myself an introvert (I’m more of an ambivert), but long ago I recognized my introverted nature when it comes to business networking. As I work primarily with lawyers, I recognize the same quality in many of them. In fact, 60% of lawyers are believed to be introverts. In a profession that requires relationship-building in order to build business, how can introverts overcome this aversion to networking? In my case, I found podcasting.

Yes, podcasting. I started my agency’s podcast, Spill the Ink, in late 2020. I was late to the podcasting game. In fact, I had resisted starting a podcast as I believed that the legal marketing and PR space was too saturated with podcasts for me to make an impact. I changed my mind, however, following a conversation with Elise Holtzman, a legal business development coach and host of The Lawyer’s Edge podcast.

Elise explained that her strategy was focused more on relationship-building than audience-building. The audience would come, eventually, but Elise was more focused on the one-on-one conversations she was having with people who were new to her network — especially potential referral sources. This one-to-one networking was highly valuable, and the podcast format allowed her to do it in a structured, purposeful way. I was intrigued and decided to take the plunge.

“With podcasting, your networking is focused on the right people — potential clients, referral sources and others who enhance your professional network.”

What I found is that podcasts are an ideal platform for introverted networkers like lawyers. Here’s why:

PODCASTING IS DONE SOLO, FROM THE SANCTUARY OF YOUR OFFICE

When doing a podcast interview, you are technically alone. I conduct all my podcast interviews via Zoom, so I’m having a virtual face-to-face conversation. I only publish the audio for now, but I still get the benefit of looking someone in their eyes while having a meaningful conversation without ever having to leave my office. (I do miss the charcuterie board, though.)

Conversations are recorded and later edited. That means if a dog barks, if the conversation lulls or if you venture into a topic that you don’t want to include in the final version, you can edit it out.

YOU FOCUS ON THE RIGHT PEOPLE

With podcasting, your networking is focused on the right people — potential clients, referral sources and others who enhance your professional network. Imagine if you could walk into a networking event, immediately find a potential client, have a focused one-on-one conversation with them, and then promote the nuggets of wisdom you both shared to your networks later on? This is what a podcast does for you and more.

When I first started mine, I brainstormed a list of guests. I first focused on referral sources — i.e., other legal industry service providers who served the same clientele but offered different services. I’ve interviewed website designers, customer relationship management consultants, search engine optimization firms, business development coaches and a range of other specialists. These people are all excited to be featured on a platform that reaches the audience they, too, want to reach.

I’m now focused on interviewing managing partners of small to midsize business law firms, which are my target client. Eventually I’ll move on to interviewing legal media reporters and editors, an integral part of my network.

At the end of every interview, I ask the guest for an introduction to someone they think would make a great guest. I’ve made valuable connections that I never would have without the podcast. The format gives me a meaningful reason to connect with someone and expands my network to include the guest’s network.

NO SMALL TALK NECESSARY 

Throw the weather convo out the window! When I schedule a podcast, I have a clear idea of the type of conversation I want to have, and I communicate that to the guest. I typically spend about an hour researching the guest and writing up a list of questions. While great podcast interviews are free-flowing, it helps to have a list of questions prepared and a loose structure to keep the conversation on track.

Most podcast interviews are a half-hour to an hour in length. What other way could you have a substantive conversation with a valuable new connection, focused on a relevant topic, in less than an hour?

YOU PRODUCE CONTENT THAT PROVIDES MYRIAD BENEFITS

At the end of a typical networking conversation, you come away with a business card and a LinkedIn connection, at most. However, with a podcast interview, in addition to the new connection you’ve made, you create a piece of content that adds not just to your marketing arsenal, but also to your guest’s. You can share that podcast on LinkedIn, post it to your website and populate it to the range of podcast services such as Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts.

If you’re the type that dreads networking, stop attending the events and instead launch your own podcast. Consider your time hosting the podcast as a replacement for all those business networking events you used to go to. Your introverted self will thank you.

 
HR Feature Human Resources Management

Under Wraps

How to secure proprietary information when staff members jump ship.

Most law firms invest considerable time and effort building skilled teams. But what happens when key employees leave your firm and head to competing organizations? Too often their hard-earned knowledge goes out the door with them.

Phillip M. Perry

“Staff members are extremely valuable components of a law firm,” says Brad Adler, Partner and General Counsel in the Atlanta office of Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP. “Their departure can unexpectedly and dramatically disrupt an organization’s entire administrative efficiency.”

Departing staff can siphon off valuable organizational property in two categories, says Adler. The first is intellectual capital, consisting of the individual’s accumulated skills for which the law firm has typically invested time, effort and resources. The second is institutional knowledge of the firm’s internal operations. That includes marketing strategies and plans, financial information, hourly rates, fee arrangements, pricing and an understanding of client needs.

While law firms have always aimed to stem losses in both categories, recent changes in the work environment have lent urgency to the task. Employment relationships have become less stable, high-level talent is in greater demand, and recruiting has become more aggressive. Intellectual property — easily carted between firms — has become more valuable to organizational survival.

RESTRICTIVE COVENANTS

Law firms looking to protect their proprietary interests have a tool at their disposal in the form of restrictive covenants. “Post-employment restrictive covenants are similar to insurance policies,” says Adler. “They are proactive measures predicated on something happening that hopefully never does. While you don’t want to have to rely on them, their value crystallizes at the very time you need it most — when an essential employee leaves and goes to a competitor.”

Let’s take that first category of organizational value: intellectual capital. The loss of a single employee’s knowledge can transmute into a costly brain drain when the individual solicits colleagues to jump ship. The risk can elevate with higher-level employees. “Suppose a [chief financial officer] or [chief operating officer] has developed a relationship and a degree of loyalty with a certain team of individuals,” says Adler. “When that person leaves, there is a real risk that other team members will go along if they are solicited by the very person who was their leader for a period of time.”

“Suppose a [chief financial officer] or [chief operating officer] has developed a relationship and a degree of loyalty with a certain team of individuals. When that person leaves, there is a real risk that other team members will go along if they are solicited by the very person who was their leader for a period of time.”

Law firms can obviate such losses by having key personnel sign nonsolicitation agreements, also referred to as anti-raiding provisions. These restrictive covenants that keep departing personnel from luring away fellow employees are commonly used by businesses of all kinds.

“I don’t know of anything that triggers litigation more than a high-level employee leaving a company, and then coming under suspicion of being a pied piper and causing a bunch of other employees to leave,” says Joseph Y. Ahmad, a Founding Partner in the Houston law firm of Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing. “Many times that gets articulated as some type of raiding claim.”

How about the other category of value — institutional knowledge? Law firms can use yet another type of restrictive covenant to obviate losses of sensitive and proprietary information.

“A confidentiality or nondisclosure provision prevents the departing employees from disclosing or using the proprietary or confidential information of their ex-employers,” says Joon Hwang, Shareholder in the Tysons Corner, Virginia, office of Littler Mendelson, PC. After defining the nature of the organization’s sensitive information, such agreements state that the signers will take measures to keep it secret. “The information in dispute does not have to be a ‘trade secret’ but must simply be confidential, proprietary or not publicly available.”

Nondisclosure provisions prohibit departing employees from disclosing confidential information to anyone else. State laws determine the maximum time periods for which such agreements are enforceable. In Georgia, the clause can exist in perpetuity, but other states have time limitations that often range from three to five years.

Whatever the category of organizational value being protected, there are two sides to the coin. When hiring staff from elsewhere, law firms need to avoid violating a rival organization’s own restrictive covenants. “Law firms should ask candidates to confirm they are not under any restrictions from coming to work,” says Adler. “They should be asked for copies of any agreements they signed with their current or previous employer. This will allow for an independent assessment of any obligations they might have which will impact their value to a new employer, or indeed whether they can work for a competitive firm at all.”

DEPARTING ATTORNEYS

Much of what has been said about staff members also applies to attorneys who are departing for competing law firms. “The things to think about for departing lawyers are confidentiality agreements and provisions for nonsolicitation of employees,” says Adler. The former would keep attorneys from disclosing institutional knowledge; the latter would keep them from luring away professional colleagues.

While business organizations of all kinds use noncompetes to keep staff from joining rival organizations and nonsolicit provisions of customers to protect revenues, Adler says he has never seen such covenants used to restrain the activities of attorneys migrating to rival firms. “The American Bar Association has come out and flatly said that a law firm can’t use noncompetes for lawyers,” says Adler. “The idea is that clients have a right to choose the lawyers they want, and courts are going to bend over to protect the rights of clients in these situations.”

“[New hires] should be asked for copies of any agreements they signed with their current or previous employer. This will allow for an independent assessment of any obligations they might have which will impact their value to a new employer, or indeed whether they can work for a competitive firm at all.”

There might be unique circumstances in a particular state that would approve the use of a noncompete for a lawyer, says Adler. But it would be a rare event. And there’s one more thing to consider: “Most firms would want to resolve any disputes in this area on a private basis, since a public fight doesn't benefit anybody.”

The same goes for covenants restricting client solicitations. “I have rarely seen them in agreements signed by lawyers, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be enforced or that there aren’t firms that have them,” says Adler.

If restrictive covenants can be valuable resources for law firms looking to stem losses of intellectual capital and institutional knowledge, the fact remains that the documents’ powers are negative in nature. Activating them can cost much time and effort and damage staff morale and public reputation.

A much more productive approach is to ensure staff members don’t want to leave your legal organization in the first place. “In the end, law firms would prefer to not use their restrictive covenants,” says Adler. “The best way to assure they remain idle is to treat staff members well by adequate compensation, recognition, provision of advancement opportunities and recognition of the value of work-life balance.”