Top 10 Reasons Attorneys Should Always Accept Invitations to Appear on Panels

Oftentimes, attorneys are asked to speak at an industry conference or seminar. I advise that attorney to offer his or her assistance in assembling and moderating a panel of experts in lieu of the solo speaking engagement. Why do I push for the panel? Doesn't it take some of the spotlight away from the attorney?

The reason is that moderating a panel offers a number of business development opportunities that would be unavailable if the partner were alone on the podium.

There are inherent advantages in our attorneys being able to invite referral sources, clients and prospective sources of business to be on our panel. My "ultimate panel" is as follows:

Moderator: chairman of one of our practice groups. Panelists (6): current referral sources (2), current clients (1), prospective referral sources (1-2), prospective clients (1-2)

Here are ten new business opportunities that can be created from this single panel discussion:

  1. Provide exposure for existing contacts. Nothing cements a relationship with one of your referral sources quite like an invitation to speak in front of 300 prospective clients. Whether it's an executive from a Big Five accounting firm, an investment bank or an industry organization, they need exposure as well. They will be grateful for the opportunity and they will likely refer even more business to your firm.

  2. Provide opportunities for existing clients. As with your contacts, giving your clients some exposure can go a long way towards keeping them happy. We all know that client retention is just as important as client acquisition. Additionally, many of your corporate clients may be looking for investors. Putting them in front of an audience of venture capitalists and angel investors may lead to that next round of funding, which translates into more legal work for your firm.

  3. Entrée. Panel invitations are a great way to get your foot in the door with potential referral sources and clients. Standard cold calls are often inappropriate and they have a pretty low success rate. Responses will range from "not interested" to "send me your materials (translation: circular file)." Not exactly an effective method. The whole dynamic changes, however, when I call up a CEO and say, "We're moderating a panel at X conference. So far, I have participants from Goldman Sachs, Sequoia Capital and AOL TimeWarner. We'd like to invite you to be on the panel as well." If I play my cards right, the CEO will appear on the panel, will actually read our materials and agree to a separate meeting with the partner.

  4. Free Passes. Another way to introduce your firm to a prospective client or contact is to call or e-mail him or her with a free pass to the conference. Most event coordinators will supply you with a handful of day or event passes. Your guest will not only be grateful for the gesture (most event passes cost between $500 - $3,000), he or she will come to the event and see your attorney moderating his or her panel of experts.

  5. Show people "whom you swim with." You can tell people about your Fortune 500 clients until you are blue in the face, but it doesn't have the effect of your target audience viewing your attorneys up on stage among their "peers." There is immediate validation that stems from someone seeing your partner interacting with the Pfizers, Kodaks and Merrill Lynches of the world. In many people's minds, you'll have achieved instant credibility. Because you deal with the "big boys," you must be a top firm. That's the kind of perception that separates your firm from the masses and can propel you onto an RFP short list.

  6. Expert Status. Let's say you want people to know that your firm has expertise in bankruptcy law. Have your attorneys moderate a few panels of bankruptcy judges and people will label your lawyers as experts. Most people have neither the time, the desire nor the cognitive energies to question what is presented to them. Instead, they make assumptions based on the fact that your partner is on stage firing questions at a bunch of distinguished scholars. "She is the moderator of a panel of renowned tax law experts. She must be an expert in tax law." That is the way people interpret and analyze information. Take advantage of it.

  7. Invitations. One good turn deserves another. If you invite executives to be on your panels, they will often return the favor. They will invite your attorneys to be on their panels and also to attend their executive roundtables, dinners and other valuable networking functions.

  8. Panels beget panels. Once an attorney has moderated a number of panels, be active with that information. One of my department heads has moderated ten panels in the last year. I have a spreadsheet detailing each of the events and all of the noteworthy contacts and clients who participated. I forward that list to event organizers because I know their job requires them to find quality facilitators and reputable experts for their panels. They tend to respond favorably when I tell them that I can make their jobs easier by delivering an experienced moderator and six panelists of note.

  9. Deal flow. This is extremely important for your corporate attorneys. In many transactions, there are numerous parties involved. In closing a round of funding, for example, you may have five venture capitalists (VCs), a Big Five accounting firm and a bank or two intimately involved in the transaction. Every one of these parties is a potential referral source for your firm and for each other. Every time your attorneys moderate a panel of VCs, you are creating opportunities for the VCs to network, and optimally, trade quality deals with each other. The VCs will not only be grateful; they will often recommend to the company being funded that they engage your firm as counsel. Another benefit of appearing with your existing VC friends is establishing credibility with new VCs.

  10. Re-purposing. We never let an event die. Whether it's webcasts, reprints, articles or video, we always try to capture an event so that it can be viewed later by people who were either unable to attend the conference or may have not known about our firm at the time. It's not just a courtesy. A well-prepared piece covering your event provides additional validation for your firm and attorneys. There are probably ten different things we do to re-purpose our events, with that goal in mind. But that, I guess, is another article.

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