As we say goodbye to summer, many of us are looking forward to the delights of fall: crisp weather, beautiful foliage, football and budgets. Wait. What? Okay, so maybe not many of us are actually looking forward to that last one.

As the economic challenges continue, most law firms will continue the trend of taking a hard look at non-essential expenditures. Paying for attorneys to attend conferences is one area to which a number of firms have taken the scalpel.

Even if you are among the fortunate who will be able to attend one or more conferences in 2015, it is likely that your law firm will expect you to be selective about which conferences you attend and that you be able to demonstrate that investing in your attendance was a worthwhile expenditure. This is likely to mean the firm is looking for more upon your return than a pristine copy of the handout materials (which you cannot share if they are copyrighted, anyway) and a few logo-emblazoned stress balls.

These tips can help you take a strategic approach to conference attendance, starting even before you send in the registration form.

Before the Conference

  • Attend the right conference: In determining which conferences will provide the best marketing and networking opportunities, ask your clients which conferences they regularly attend, and find out if they would be willing to send you information about the next conference they plan to attend. This demonstrates that you are interested in learning more about their industry/interests and, more than likely, will put you in contact with companies and decision-makers in positions similar to your existing clients.
  • Be on the “A” list: Register early, not only to ensure you get in before the conference closes, but also to get your name on the attendee list. Attendee lists often are posted on conference online marketing sites and/or distributed to the registered attendees. One or more of your clients or contacts may be attending the event, and seeing your name on the attendee list may cause them to get in touch with you. This could be especially useful in reconnecting with past clients.
  • Identify the best networking opportunities: Long before the conference begins, schedule meetings with a realistic number of contacts who will be attending. You will not be the only attorney reaching out to attendees (or your clients, for that matter), and schedules will fill up quickly. Schedule meetings around the timing of the conference – perhaps breakfast or dinner on days when those meals are not part of a planned event. If the attendee list is not distributed in advance, use last year’s list as a starting point. People often attend the same seminars annually, particularly if the programs are good (which makes them a good marketing/networking function, as well).
  • Leverage the power of social media: Don’t forget to check for pages or groups related to the conference on social media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Follow conference-related discussions and hashtags on sites such as Twitter. Post comments to your own social media accounts indicating you will be attending. Be sure to include hashtags related to the conference in your posts. For example, the Association of General Counsel’s Annual Meeting in October 2014 is referenced with the hashtag #ACCAM14.
  • Kill two birds with one stone (and the same dollars): In addition to the conference attendees, think about visiting clients located in or near the conference city. Contact them in advance, telling them you will be in town, and ask if they might have time to meet. Even if you go a day early or stay an extra day, you’ve made good use of valuable time and impressed the client, as well.
  • Invite clients to your presentation: If you are a speaker at the conference, contact clients in advance, telling them of your topic, and invite them to attend. If they cannot attend, offer to send them the notes/PowerPoint from your presentation after the conference, if the conference sponsor does not prohibit doing so. This not only is a nice gesture, but also points out to the client that you are an authority in the area.

At the Conference

  • Have a plan of attack: At most conferences, you cannot expect to meet everyone. It is better to select five to six attendees you would most like to meet/speak to, and focus on spending quality time with those individuals. Also, give advance thought to what you would like to discuss with these targeted individuals. You will have limited time with them, so make it count, and discuss something other than the weather or your workload.
  • Bring your business cards: This sounds simple, but business cards are often one of the items people forget to take along when headed somewhere other than the office.
  • Follow good business card etiquette: Only give your card to those who ask for it or those with whom you have a conversation. Otherwise, everyone walks away with a stack of business cards and cannot remember anything about the person who gave it to them. If you get other people’s cards, take a moment to make a note of where you met them.  
  • Attend sessions strategically: While you are certainly at the conference for the educational experience, increase your chances of encountering clients and prospects by attending those sessions you think they are most likely to attend.
  • Arrive at the sessions early: If you arrive late, you will not have an opportunity to seek out and sit with one of your targeted contacts.
  • Chat with the chair: The conference chair, that is. If you are interested in being a speaker at a future program, talk with the conference chair or with the moderator of a panel session to express your interest and make an impression so they’ll remember you. Ask about the proper procedure for submitting a topic idea, or ask how you can assist with panels, etc., at the next meeting.
  • Engage in real time. Engage with your network during the conference by posting or tweeting interesting information from the conference sessions. You might share thought-provoking comments shared by speakers or other participants (crediting them, of course) or you may want to really engage your network by sharing a digest of one or more of the conference sessions.

After the Conference

  • Follow up quickly: Be the first to send an email or make a call to the contacts you made or renewed. Your note can be as simple as, “Enjoyed meeting/seeing you at the conference.” If you promised to send information, send it within the week.
  • Circle back to clients again: If you promised a client, in your advance preparation, to send materials from the conference, do so as quickly as possible. If the client is local, consider telling them you will stop by with the information, or go to lunch to deliver it, which will give you an opportunity to share other information you may have learned at the conference. Think of other clients who might like to have the same information.
  • Make a record of contacts: Enter the names of any new contacts into your Outlook Contacts or your firm’s CRM system, along with a note of where you met them, what you discussed and any information you learned. Enter the same type of information into the “notes” section of the record of existing contacts with whom you also spoke. 
  • Other ways to follow up: Be aware of ways to follow up from time to time. For instance, you might route one of the firm’s newsletters to your new contacts, indicating “thought you might be interested,” and asking if they would like to subscribe to that or other newsletters. Send them an article you’ve published. Connect on LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media platforms.

Have a few conferences under your belt? Post a comment if you have tips to share, or contact Terry M. Isner at tisner@jaffepr.com.