Mastering Dunbar's Number: Building Stronger Connections in Your Law Firm 🤝⚖

Hey [Recipient's Name],

This week I did a 360 Review with my Firm.  Basically everyone had to say the #1 thing I do that is helpful to the team and our firm.  And then got to say the #1 thing I do that is unhelpful to the team and our firm.

Thankfully the team did not have a TON of negatives to share (except my wife, she thankfully had plenty to share)...but the positives kept coming back to my networking and relationship building.

So that got me thinking about how many meaningful relationships one person can truly maintain.  Enter Robin (not Batman’s sidekick) Dunbar and his legendary numbers to answer this question.

What are Dunbar's Numbers?

Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist, proposed that humans can comfortably maintain only 150 stable relationships. He suggested that while you can have more acquaintances, you can only maintain a close relationship with a smaller group.

Dunbar's Number Breakdown:

  • Recognize: 1500 (basically the 500 acquaintances and then everyone from the Game of Thrones show)
  • Acquaintances: 500 (people you know without really hanging out…people you wouldn't even have a long chat with walking down the courthouse steps like in every lawyer stock photo)
  • Social Circle: 150 meaningful contacts (Christmas card list, people you see at least once a year, you’d invite all of them to a large wedding)
  • Sympathy Group: 50 friends (friends you'd invite to a medium sized party, people you would support when they lose someone)
  • Close Group: 15 good friends (reliable buddies, the yearly group trip, the fantasy football draft… they help you move)
  • Core Group: 5 close confidants (family or best friends, they help you move… dead bodies)

Controversies and Social Media:  Let’s start here - are these numbers still accurate?

Can't we maintain 500 or even 5,000 friends on Facebook? The truth: Quantity ≠ Quality. While social platforms allow for more connections, they often lack depth. Some studies affirm Dunbar's hypothesis, suggesting even in online spaces, we gravitate towards maintaining around 150 meaningful connections per platform.  

I have 10,000 contacts on Linked In…and I wouldn’t recognize 9500 of them.  At most, maybe social media covers the recognized category.  I think it helps you move people closer to the center circle and keep them there more than truly changing the number of relationships you can keep.

Implications for Law Firms:

  • Size of Firm: Larger firms might struggle with maintaining personal connections between all employees. You might need to look at your firm as more of teams of loved ones or good friends than as the whole firm as meaningful contacts.  That could change who comes to meetings, who reports to whom (grammar correct?), things like that.
  • Client Relations: Attorneys might feel they can handle countless clients. But meaningful relationships take time. You might want to focus on deepening your connection with fewer clients for better service rather than spreading yourself too thin.  Or you might have to add people 100% dedicated to the client experience.  Especially if you have repeat work from clients or stay in touch with former clients…it’s not sustainable for the lawyer to do this and ALSO carry a full case load.
  • Referral Networks: If your referral list exceeds 50, it's time to prioritize. Who are the key players genuinely beneficial to your firm? Quality over quantity remains king, ESPECIALLY here.  Remember, Ross married more people than Monica, Joey, Chandler, Phoebe and Rachel hung out with consistently over the course of Friends.  We can only stay connected to so many people.

Maximizing Dunbar's Number with an Assistant:

If you’re really the networking powerhouse of your firm you can amplify your relationship-building prowess. Here's what I do:

  1. I have my top 50 in my Iphone as favorites (not JUST referral sources, but close)

This helps me batch holiday memes and such to people.  It’s also good if I have a last minute lunch cancellation, or an extra Magic ticket or something like that.

  1. I have a marketing plan for referrals for the firm

This makes sure my whole firm is there for my contacts.  We want to send out cases just as much as we want to get referrals.  And the more my contacts know my staff, the more they trust us to keep rocking it while I am on vacation.

Think of this like a Batman / TMNT team-up (yes this is a real thing and there’s even a movie and it’s awesome).  (also yes, I think I am Batman in that analogy).

This also makes sure we cover birthdays, anniversaries, firm anniversaries, kid’s birthdays etc.

  1. I set reminders on my phone to remind me to stay connected with people every X days

Ideally this is reminding me to stay connected with people MORE often, not that it’s the only time I connect with them.

  1. I calendar EVERYTHING

I live off of my calendar.  Lunches, breakfasts, topgolfs, dinners, all of them are calendared.  And even if I go to Dave and Buster’s with a referral source on a Sunday last minute, it’s on the calendar.

My assistant then combines my calendar with our marketing plan contacts to make sure I am seeing people as consistently as I can.

Then she and I meet every month and go over my whole list and see when’s the last time I saw people.

  1. I keep notes

I also keeps notes on my phone about what my referral sources and I spoke about (what’s going on in their lives, what big case are they working on, what promotion is their spouse up for, etc).

These notes then get transmitted to my assistant as needed during those monthly meetings.

It’s been great, because it forces me to write it down so it doesn’t JUST live in my head.

Longer term we will be moving this to lawmatics, but for now I just have too many changes going on with leaving LegalEase and starting the attorney CEO coaching to also take on that project.

  1. The Secret Sauce

But there’s one more thing I need to explain.  It’s the secret that ties all of this together.

It’s the Force, it’s the One ring, it’s the opposite of a McGuffin.

I GENUINELY care about these people.

That’s why I do all of this.  Because I actually care.  Not that I care about everyone, but no one makes these lists without me caring about them.

And to be fair, I STILL don’t have 150 people on “the list”…so maybe Dunbar is right.

By understanding and leveraging Dunbar's Numbers, you and your law firm can cultivate deeper, more meaningful relationships that lead to better cases, better clients, and really a better LIFE. 

Next week I am going to start a multi-week deep dive into delegation.  I promise it will be worth it, it’s helped me a ton.

Until then, have a wonderful weekend!

[Your Name


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