Networking takes time, effort, force of personality and endurance. For lawyers who are shy or quiet by nature, it can be painful and exhausting. Even for those of us who consider ourselves extroverted networking takes a deliberate effort.
A recent event for an affinity bar association presented a great networking opportunity for the lawyers in attendance, both new and more experienced. In all, it was a gathering of a diverse group of lawyers in all age groups and a variety of practice areas. A great atmosphere for building a wide circle of acquaintance, for meeting, exchanging cards and giving one’s “elevator speech.” But what happened?
A number of newer lawyers attended with a colleague they already knew. Is that automatically a deterrent to networking? No, not if you don’t cling to each other like a drowning person clings to a life-preserver. Sometimes having a networking buddy can give you a little confidence boost and make it easier to engage in a conversation with someone unknown to you. But being surrounded by a group of colleagues you already know can make it difficult to meet new people; who wants to be the one person who intrudes on a group of people who clearly already know each other?
Some long-time members settled in to catch up with people they hadn’t seen in a while. This included more than one more experienced lawyer who had recently made a transition in their practice and should have been talking to as many people as possible about their new career direction. You can’t get referrals from your peers if they don’t know what you do, right? While it was undoubtedly pleasant to see old friends, they missed a great networking opportunity.
While this was going on, a conversation with a long-time practitioner who has turned to mentoring new lawyers crystallized some basic thoughts on effectively networking. Nope, not going to talk about the “elevator speech.” But here are some practical tips – by no means an exhaustive list – about networking at a lawyer-only event. (Networking at an event where there are prospective or potential clients requires a post all its own because of the ethical considerations and the ban on direct solicitation).
- Always, always, always have business cards on hand. Give them out liberally to other lawyers. If for some reason you don’t have business cards with you, ask the lawyer you are talking to for theirs. Don’t be hesitant, that’s why lawyers have business cards.
- When you get another lawyer’s business card, don’t just drop it into your pocket, purse or briefcase. Take a minute after the conversation to make a very brief notation on the card so that the next time you look at it you will remember the owner and a small detail about your conversation. Why is that important?
- Follow-up on the contact if it’s one that will or may be useful to you in the future. Send a quick email, or (I know, it’s shockingly archaic) a short hand-written note; you can now refer to that small detail (see #2) and remind your new acquaintance about yourself, your practice area, etc. And if you didn’t have business cards with you at the event, you can enclose one with the note. Rather than the “so nice to meet you,” your note/email, etc. can say “so nice to meet you and hear about your new arbitration practice,” or “so nice to meet you, I our conversation about “x” (your kids, your new car, your vacation, etc.)
- Follow-up with an offer to have coffee, meet at a State Bar event, etc. Or if your conversation was more substantive and about your practice or some future opportunity, offer a phone call to discuss that specific potential opportunity.
- If you are at an event at which there are both high-top tables and “standard” tables and chairs, do not plant yourself at a “standard” table. You will limit the number of people with whom you may be able to interact, particularly if your table fills up with people inclined to sit for a while.
- Dress professionally if it’s a professional event. Even at a happy hour, dressing professionally is important to your brand – the image you are presenting. Depending on the event business casual may be appropriate, but when you are presenting yourself to your peers at a networking (not strictly social) event think about how you would like your colleagues to remember your encounter – not only the conversation but their general impression of you. Always be building your brand.
- Lastly (at least for today) but certainly not least, remember you are there to meet new people and let them meet you. But a networking conversation is not necessarily a long, in-depth conversation. Be mindful of social cues – a conversation can last too long; don’t wait for people you meet to be squirming to get away before you notice that the conversation should be over. Plan for a cordial exit from a conversation that has run its course. A handshake (well, maybe after flu season), a “it’s been nice to meet you,” and an invitation for follow-up if that appears warranted is a great exit. There are many others – use your judgment.
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