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Blog: How dirt law taught me to be a curious connector

Wednesday, May 10, 2017   (0 Comments)
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By Tzen-Yi Goh


I’ve been practicing dirt law for more than 15 years, which means that I help my clients buy, sell, develop, lease and finance real estate. I love what I do – I love helping clients transform our skyline. I love looking out my office window, or riding my bike to work, and checking out all the cool developments that I’ve contributed to in my own little way.

So, let me pause there for a second – I’m not sure if you noticed but that was my lame attempt at a 30-second elevator pitch. I actually don’t try it too often because it feels unnatural and awkward and even though I think an elevator pitch is an important thing to have and you should always try to improve yourself and work on your weaknesses – to me, it’s just as important to know who you are, be comfortable with who you are and build your business development and networking strategies around that.


Here are three approaches that have worked for me, after the elevator pitch:


Cultivate relationships. Be a connector. It doesn’t matter where you are in your career. Even if you’re fresh out of school, start building personal connections now and keep doing it regularly because you never know when the connection will matter in the future. In the meantime, the time invested will make the relationship more genuine – and you’ll have fun along the way. Join different organizations or volunteer, as I have with Ascend Canada, to widen your network. Being a connector means to actively think about ways in which you can help your clients by introducing them to others. Show your clients that you care. It may be as simple as sharing an article that one of your colleagues wrote on a relevant topic and using that opportunity to introduce them to your colleague, or recommending your client to someone you know is looking to hire. One of my best clients is a banker that I got to know in my second year of practice – we bonded over a shared love of dim sum - and since then we’ve grown up in the industry together. He’s the guy who over the years I’ve asked - and still ask - all my embarrassingly stupid business questions. And I’ve been the guy that over the years - and still to this day - he calls to ask all of his embarrassingly stupid legal questions. To me, that’s the true definition of being someone’s trusted advisor.


Be genuine. Be yourself.  You don’t need to be or act a certain way to be successful at business development. You don’t need to be a big drinker, or great at small talk, or love sports. Just do the kinds of things that you enjoy doing – whether it’s going to lunch, grabbing a coffee, playing squash, speaking at seminars, taking a client to a play or an art exhibit. If you do that, and stay true to yourself, you’ll find that you will attract clients that have similar values, goals and interests to yours and ultimately those are the clients that you will enjoy working with the most. These days – the most important thing in my life is spending time with my family – we have three young kids and a lot of my clients are in a similar place in life. So I rarely do dinners or other evening events anymore, except where it involves getting my wife and kids together with a client’s spouse and kids for a family-oriented activity. Clients love it when you involve their families.


Develop intellectual curiosity. One of the best pieces of advice that I received from one of my many awesome mentors is to be intellectually curious - this means to be informed about your industry, your clients and the world generally. In my mentor's words: "If intellectual curiosity doesn’t come naturally to you, work on it until it becomes a part of you. People at law firms aspire to be trusted advisors. Many fail because they are terrible listeners and don’t care to learn about their clients or their client’s business. Because they are not curious, they don’t learn. Because they are uninterested, they become uninteresting. Resist this behaviour at all costs; develop your reputation as a phenomenal active listener and someone who is open-minded and curious, especially about different viewpoints and perspectives. Learning is a journey, not a destination. You should never stop learning. In fact, it gets easier to learn as you become more senior because it's easier to see the relevance of why you need to learn." 


Whether you're a dirt lawyer like me, or practice another other area of law, or something else entirely, those are words to live by. 


Tzen-Yi Goh, Real Property Lawyer at McCarthy Tetrault. This article was also posted on LinkedIn. 

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Ascend Canada was founded in 2012 to enhance the presence, visibility and influence of current and future Pan-Asian business leaders. Today, with the support of our more than 3,000 members and numerous corporate partners, our objectives are to develop the full potential of our members by leveraging our networks and providing programs and events that inspire, as well as educate. 

Vision: To have a diverse and inclusive Canada where pan-Asian talent can achieve its full potential.

Mission: Partner and progress with Canadian Organizations to develop and advance pan-Asian talent.

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