Grow Your Relationships and Serve Your Clients

James Reid Dinsmore & Shohl

As rising professionals, it’s important to learn that both building relationships and serving your clients are major parts of growing your business. On the show today we welcome James Reid, a partner with Dinsmore & Shohl, a national law firm based out of Cincinnati, Ohio. James is based out of metro Detroit, and his practice focuses on labor law and dispute. Throughout his career, James has done a phenomenal job of not only going above and beyond for his clients and providing that superior service that is needed as a professional but has also built up his network along the way. During our conversation, we will be discussing advice for rising professionals who are looking to grow their networks and establish strong relationship foundations while also putting their clients at the forefront of their mission. We talk about managing your time to optimize outcomes, leveraging your networking, practical tips to help you succeed, dealing with change, and much more! So stay tuned and don’t miss out on this insightful episode!

Key Points From This Episode

  • James shares some steps and thought processes he went through to establish his career.
  • He explains the magic number of 5.
  • Tips on how to manage your time and how to drive the best result outcomes with your time.
  • How to leverage your networking to get a return on your investment.
  • Not defending your network: A mindset to embrace.
  • The importance of using your electronic calendar and how to make it work for you.
  • The power of LinkedIn with regards to networking and the trusted advisor role.
  • James talks about finding his focus and the mistakes he made along the way.
  • The above and beyond factor: Giving 110% all the time.
  • How to deal with change and remain adaptable.
  • Advice James would give his younger self.


[00:00:01] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Branch Out, a Connection Builders podcast. Helping middle-market professionals connect, grow and excel in their careers. Through a series of conversations with leading professionals, we share stories and insights to take your career to the next level. A successful career begins with meaningful connections.

[00:00:21] AD: Hey everyone, welcome to Branch Out. I’m your host, Alex Drost. Today’s guest is James Reid, a partner with Dinsmore Shoal, a national law firm based out of Cincinnati, Ohio. James is based out of Metro Detroit and his practice focuses on labor law and dispute. James and I spend time discussing advice for rising professionals who are looking to build relationships while also serving their clients. Hope you enjoy.

[00:00:48] ANNOUNCER: Connect and grow your network. We are on LinkedIn. Search for Connection Builders.


[00:00:56] AD: James, welcome to Branch Out.

[00:00:58] JR: Thank you. Happy to be here, Alex.

[00:01:00] AD: James, part of the branch out audience that we are targeting are ultimately young and up-and-coming professionals, those that are really looking to excel in their careers. And part of that being lawyers. And you’ve done a really great job in your career not only being able to service your clients and then provide that kind of superior service that’s needed as a professional, but you’ve also done a really good job building your network along the way. And I would love if you could just share some of your thoughts with our audience about the steps you’ve taken and some of the thought processes you’ve gone through to achieve those goals.

[00:01:32] JR: Sure, and hopefully at age 40 I’m still included in that young up-and-coming category.

[00:01:39] AD: Absolutely.

[00:01:40] JR: I essentially always tried to build relationships going back to childhood. And once you get into the business world, I was fortunate enough to live through 2008 where a lot of businesses were sink or swim based on sales, and I essentially was forced to swim. I was just married, just had my first kid and I wanted to figure out how to go about networking. And I think as a young professional, you felt like you had to have gray hair or be bald like you, Alex, in order to be trusted.

It turns out that you have to have a relationship. No one’s going to call you just based on your look or just based on what firm you’re at. You actually need to get out there and meet somebody. And the main thing I started realizing was if I did a great interaction, a great speaking engagement, a great networking group, I then realized I need to find my target audience. What I call the magic number of five. At least five times ideally in a year. But once you have five kind ice-breaking opportunities with somebody, I feel like your relationship is a lot deeper.

[00:02:56] AD: Well, no. I think you make a really good point there. It’s this idea that building relationships takes time, right? And like you and I, we talked about this before. You and I have met. We’ve met a few times here and you and I are still in that early part of building a relationship out. And that’s what I think is actually really great and fun about doing these podcasts, it’s getting to know guys like you more. And as I hear you, it’s very much this philosophy that you need to spend time slowly building those and getting to know the right people. But how do you sit back and say, “I’m busy. I’ve got all these demands of servicing my clients. Plus I have to be strategic about who I meet and find the time.” How do you balance all that? How do you get that done?

[00:03:31] JR: It goes back to sports. Everyone’s busy with school and family and maybe a job. And if you want to be a good athlete, you have to focus a certain amount of time practicing. And yeah, I love the Allen Iverson, all about practice skit. But essentially I picked up cycling about five years ago and I learned that in order to be competitive you have to spend at least 10 hours a week in the saddle. So I think a similar thing applies to networking. If you’re not spending 10 hours a week above and beyond everything else you’re doing, you need to add that as an essential function to your job if you’re interested and eventually having relationships to leverage and network with in the future.

[00:04:19] AD: Well, and I think you make such a great point there. I mean it’s part of practice, right? Everything you do, the more you do it, the better you get at it. It just doesn’t matter what it is in your life, right? I think, really, you call that experience in some ways. And as you get more and more time getting better at networking but also recognizing that you have to put that time in to get the final outcomes that we’re all striving for in terms of building those deep connections. You talk about the idea of you put 10 hours a weekend or whatever the number might be for each person. How do you prioritize that? Are there anything as you think about you’re busy, again, client service and you’ve got to slide 10 more hours and on top of everything else. And we’ve all been there. You get to the end of the day. You’ve been working since you know 7AM and now 6PM rolls around, you have a happy hour to go to or you have a dinner meeting. How do you make sure that you’re keeping those top of mind? You’re making those happen and then still executing and getting the work done?

[00:05:13] JR: So I’m a big fan of living and dying by your electronic calendar. So you actually need to block out something even if it’s an arbitrary deadline, something that may not actually have to be done at that moment, but just start relying on your calendar, sticking to your calendar, writing an article for an hour. I consider that part of my networking. Adding connections on LinkedIn, I consider that part of my networking. So like even if you need a break at work or you’re bored, maybe go on social media temporarily and just be productive that way. Find a way to leverage your networking so you get additional return on that investment. For example, if I do one speaking engagement, I would rather share it on social media and record it so other people can hear it too and maybe do a similar presentation at a different platform so I don’t have to create all new content every time I want to engage with an audience.

[00:06:09] AD: You’re hitting on a couple really good points there. The first I want to bring up is personal branding. And in some way, as a professional, you are out there personal branding. That doesn’t mean it’s the only way, but it is a very effective way to help establish your brand and build a network. Now, I’m a big believer there’s more than one way to network and you don’t have to be publishing yourself or you don’t have to try to push thought leadership to build it, but what you also brought in there was this idea that you look at a calendar and you structure your time. I think that’s so important, because so many people just approach their week with, “Well, I’ll fit everything in and not carving that time out.” And once you step back and carve that time out and consciously make that decision, it makes it so much easier to actually hit those goals.

[00:06:52] JR: I learned the exact same thing from sports. If I were to say, “”Do I feel like working out at night after I’m home from a long day?” The answer is almost always no. So if I carve out like, “Hey, I’m going to set my alarm for this time and get up and work out first thing.” I’m very successful in getting that workout accomplished. So I’m a big believer in setting out the time.

[00:07:14] AD: No. I totally agree so another topic that you and I have spent some time talking around is this idea about not defending your network and having kind of a connector mindset. I know you and I share some thoughts around that. I’d love to hear your perspective. What does that mean to you and what have you done in your professional network to continue to embrace that mindset?

[00:07:33] JR: A former mentor once told me there’s a difference between marketing and sales, and I’m not so sure I agree with that comment. I think that in order to sell, you can’t say, “Hey, I have this service or product and it costs this amount of money. I’ll give you a good deal.” I think in order to sell, you have to first do a reverse seminar and figure out the needs of the other person. And so rather than say, “Hey, everyone needs employee handbook for me or a training on this topic for me,” I would rather say, “Look, what’s your pain point? What’s keeping you up at night? What stresses you out? How can I help you?” And half the time there’s nothing to do with anything I know or anything my law firm does. And instead I can connect that person with someone else I know from networking and be their easy button. Take away that pain. And they hopefully enjoyed that experience. And they’ll come back to me again when there’s another opportunity to identify an issue to talk through.

[00:08:37] AD: What I’m hearing you say loud and clear there, it’s trusted advisor status, right? It’s putting yourself in that position where you want your clients to call you and say, “James, this is a struggle,” or putting yourself in that position simply by asking your clients. I would even go to say to your potential clients, right? In your network in general, just stepping back and saying, “How can I help you?” and you’re recognizing and bringing out the fact that by having a broad network and by having those other people in your network and being able to play that role of, “Hey, I know someone that can help you with that.” You add value to everybody. You’re not getting paid out of it. It’s not because you’re getting billables. It’s purely because you’re able to sit in the middle there and provide valuable sides, right?

[00:09:20] JR: Exactly. It’s about being a trusted advisor as you said, whether that’s drafting articles, or connecting people that get results, you’re developing trust and a relationship with that person.

[00:09:32] AD: Something again that you and I have talked about is this idea of starting to build your network from day one, right? And to our audience that I always say you can start building a network at any point in your career, but you should start today, if you haven’t already, right? What are your thoughts around that and what did you do to get started as soon as you could in your career?

[00:09:49] JR: I learned early on from good mentors that typically results from networking and trying to develop business takes 10 years. It isn’t something you can do overnight. So I started with a whole LinkedIn. So it kind of starts with just slowly doing that. And so I think it’s also a calendar thing. Maybe block out 15 minutes a day, one hour a day just on expanding your contacts. So like people used to tell me, “James, what company do you want to get into? What industry do you want to focus on?” I had no idea. I didn’t even know what companies were out there or what the industries even were. I think you got to educate yourself slowly over time and see what organically happens. You can’t decide on day one exactly your full business plan. You have to have some flexibility to adapt.

[00:10:41] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, a Connection Builders podcast.

[00:10:50] AD: I want to touch on LinkedIn for a second. I highly encourage people to sit back and look at LinkedIn as an extremely powerful tool when it comes to professional networking. And I mean for myself, it’s open on one of my monitors pretty much all day long. And one of the things I highly recommend that our listeners do is when you get an email from someone or when you’re interacting with someone, whether that’s through a networking event, a happy hour, someone on the other side of a deal, someone that reached out to, whatever it might be, go add them to LinkedIn. Immediately go add them to LinkedIn. If you if it’s the first time you’ve interacted, go add them, because that’s how – Customize the message to say, “Looking forward to working with you on this,” or, “great meeting you here,” so that they know how they connect it with you.

But ultimately when you’re doing that, it gives you that touch point of opportunity, but it’s also a phenomenal tool to help you continue to think about who’s in your network and to be able to recall those people when you’re looking to lean into it and continue to grow, build and connect to other people.

[00:11:45] JR: I was going to say, it also helps become that trusted advisor role, because I see people that I didn’t know well connected to the same people that I trust and respect that are in my network. So it makes me more interested in getting to know that person and vice versa. They may want to get to know me even more. And in addition, there’s an opportunity to add value, because I may ask somebody, “Who on my connection list would you like to have an introduction to? Or who are mutual relationships where maybe we’ll both try to network with that person together as a team?”

[00:12:20] AD: Well, and you bring up a really great point there, and I hope that everyone listening uses the power of LinkedIn. If you’re trying to get in touch with someone, if you’ve kind of sat back and said, “Hey, I would love to meet someone that works at this company or I’m trying to connect with so and so.” Go look at their LinkedIn. Figure out who your shared connections are and ask someone for an introduction. I get that from people multiple times a month that I get someone that will reach out and ask, “Hey, do you know so and so? Or how do we connect to them?” If it’s a relationship where I know them well enough it’s a true relationship where I can make that introduction in a genuine way, I’ll do it all day long. You’re able just to help people. Again, it’s leveraging that technology to help you.

You brought up the point of not knowing necessarily what you wanted to focus on, right? You have a focus in the human resources area today for your legal practice. As a young lawyer, you don’t know exactly where you want to start at. And you said you had to educate yourself. You had to inform yourself about what was out there to make those decisions. Walk through some of the thought processes and maybe some of the lessons you learned along the way in doing that.

[00:13:20] JR: So when I first finished law school, I was actually forced into HR employment space, because in 2008 is when everyone was right-sizing companies, laying people off, and there wasn’t really a specialty at my firm in counseling people through this transition in this layoff. And it gave me an opportunity to have direct contact with CEOs, CFOs, HR directors as opposed to just dealing with a matter in the books and not actually talking to the client at all. So I was actually pushed into this area and I loved it, because I love the ability to analyze a situation with somebody. And rather than tell them what they need to know or what they need to buy, I would instead ask them questions. So I learned through litigation, the best litigators don’t tell a jury what to decide. They ask enough questions, lay out enough facts, tell enough stories, and the audience makes their own decision as to what the result is.

[00:14:25] AD: What I really like, a point there, is you said you’re kind of forced into the HR focus given the economic environment. And I mean, frankly, that’s timely right now, right? I mean our economy has been flipped on its head and our whole world has been flipped on its head in so many ways. I hope our listeners out there, if anyone finds themselves in that position where maybe what they thought they’re going after or they’re kind of in a different place where the opportunities that were there before are no longer there. Look for those places where maybe there are new emerging opportunities or somewhere where, as you said, James, where you’re kind of forced to, and take advantage of it, exactly as you did. You leaned into it and said, “Hey, it’s what I have to do and I didn’t necessarily plan it, but I’m going to lean into it. I’m going to do my best.” As you said again and again, you’re going to do your best.

And that ties a thought back for me that you and I have talked about the above and beyond factor, the going to that next mile for your client. Share a little bit of thoughts about that and how do you frame your thought pattern around it?

[00:15:24] JR: It’s exactly what you said. You had to give 100% to whatever you do. Go all-in. And I’ve always been that way, whether it’s playing sports, getting your heart rate up to the max, pushing yourself. You get that satisfaction knowing you gave it your all. And I think that through my interactions with people, when they see me do sports or even prepare for a matter or do a speaking engagement, when they see you’re prepared and bring in your best effort and your best energy, they see, “I want that person on my team. That person wants to win. They have that inherent fire in their belly or that passion.” And I can tell that to them is not just punching a clock. They want to win maybe even more than the client wants to win. And people see that desire. Know that I’m going to give it my best effort.

[00:16:14] AD: Well, what I like that you said there, you show up with your best effort, right? And effort is one thing that we all can control, is how much we put into something and really showing up as your best-self, putting your best effort in for the best outcomes possible.

[00:16:28] JR: Exactly. And I think you always have to tailor your plan to the situation. So I think you got to be able to adjust to find what gets the best results.

[00:16:39] AD: And so let’s talk about that for a minute, right? So having to be nimble, having to be flexible, having to adjust. How do you deal with that, right? I mean I think a lot of us in this industry have some type A, some driven motivated personalities that like things a certain way. And when things get thrown off, how do you deal with some of the change? How do you stay nimble on that?

[00:16:56] JR: I essentially learned rather than asserting my opinion, I understand that I need to listen to the COEs intentions to meet their needs. You need to still meet their objectives. So the client sets the objectives for me. It’s not solely me identifying what would I do if it was me.

[00:17:16] AD: Well, I like that a lot, because I think as an advisor, especially when you’re sitting in a senior advisor role, right? You’re sitting acting as outside counsel and a very important aspect of the business. In my previous role, sitting as an advisor in an investment banking seat, we all have our opinions. We all have our thoughts of what the client should do and we all know what our guts say or what our instincts say. And in some ways that is what our clients are paying for us, is to understand some of that. So I think the obligation falls on you as a professional to share those instincts, but share them in a way that you’re listening and understanding and teaching and educating your client. And then let your client make the decision. And what the decision your client makes, that’s what you go to execute. Don’t try to sway them into one decision or another, right? Now you can try to encourage them to go after what might be the best for them, but if they’re pushing back, start to understand why and never go against what they’re saying, right?

[00:18:08] JR: That’s exactly the best advice. If a CEO says, “I want this. I understand the various issues that you laid out in front of me.” You don’t say, “Hey, I’ve done it this way. It’s a different product, but it accomplishes a similar result.” No. The CEO wants you to do what they wanted and don’t just find your comfort zone because you’ve done it a different way before. Give them what they wanted.

[00:18:29] AD: It’s so true. I mean it is client service. And again, you’re supposed to bring your value by helping solve the problems and the challenges they have in front of them. And if you have opinions, share them, help teach them. But in the end you are serving the client. And you know what? I think that goes in in all aspects of being a professional. It’s a people-based business where, really, what you’re doing is helping to solve problems for people and helping other people accomplish their goals.

[00:18:54] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, bringing you candid conversations with leading middle market professionals.

[00:19:02] AD: All right, James. If you look back and say, “I could go back 10 years in your career and change some approach to something or some challenge you’ve had overcome,” what would those be and what would be some of the advice that you would give James a decade ago?

[00:19:20] JR: I would treat all of my contacts with a little more TLC, tender loving care. I would want to focus more on positive speaking. I would focus more on sales. I used to think sales was something that was like the used car salesman and had a negative vibe to it. And I didn’t realize that the best sales people are just relationship builders and connection builders. And I would really wish that I was always trying to grow my relationships and develop my skillset by leveraging who I know, which I never even thought about doing until recently.

[00:20:00] JR: I think you made such a really good point there. And the word sales is sometimes this word that we don’t use in professional services. In some ways I like the word business development better. I like the idea of relationship or connecting and building those relationships, because sometimes I think sales has this connotation of you go convert someone to buy from you by using certain tactics. That doesn’t work in professional services. You build a relationship and then you sit by the hoop and you’re there and you’re ready when the time comes. But with all of that said, I believe that the sales mindset and the sales approach and what it really means to go sell really does come down to building relationships. And as a professional, if you go out and do that and you’re playing on our brand, if you go out and build connections and build those relationships, that’s how you’re ultimately going to convert clients because you’re going to be sitting by the hoops when they’re ready for you.

[00:20:52] JR: 100% right, but they don’t teach you sales skills in law school or even college. I didn’t even know back then that I would be in a sales oriented job. I thought lawyers just do great at trials and then business just falls in their lap. I didn’t even understand that almost every position as an element of sales or relationships help. Another point is you may want to network internally. I’m at a bigger platform now and I’ve spent my whole career at a smaller place networking externally. When you have a large company, you need to know how to leverage your relationships internally as well. It’s not just an external game.

[00:21:30] AD: You’re so right there. And this comes back to some of our brand. We look at connection builders and being someone that seeks to go out and build those connections to other people. And we really do believe that translates into not only business development or sales, but it also translates into quality leadership, quality management and overall career and professional success, because in the end, as a professional, you are a problem solver. It’s about bringing the right people in to get a process, a transaction, or to solve some problem for your clients, right?

[00:22:01] JR: That’s exactly right. I think my last point I wanted to touch on was people that you’re networking with 10 years ago aren’t decision makers then. Still invest in them especially if you believe in them being smart, being personable and where they’re going on their career path, because they could be the future CEOs that you need to know in the future.

[00:22:22] AD: Well, no. You make a phenomenal point there. Especially when you’re early in your career, sometimes you go out and you think, “Okay. Well, why am I spending time meeting another associate?” Even in your case, meeting an associate in another law firm or meeting someone that likely isn’t going to ever refer you business. That is still part of building your network and to build those relationships and to really create that. That takes years and years to do. So start now and recognize that over time those people will grow into a decision maker. And then you have a 10 plus year relationship with them, and that’s when you really start to be able to harvest the kind of fruits of all your efforts.

[00:22:57] JR: Or they could be in-house counsel at a major company someday.

[00:23:00] AD: There you go. You never know. You just never know where relationships are going to go, and it’s so important just to continue to build them. So James, I really love this conversation today. Really enjoyed your time and your thoughts here. So appreciate you taking some time to join us here on Branch Out.

[00:23:13] JR: Hey, thank you for doing this podcast and I love hearing all the other speakers.


[00:23:19] ANNOUNCER: Thank you for tuning in this week. Share this podcast with your professional network to help others connect, grow and excel. Like what you hear? Leave us a review and don’t forget to subscribe now.