Networking might have ten letters, but for many attorneys, it’s a four-letter word.
The most common complaint professionals make about networking is that it feels inauthentic and transactional. And because networking successfully requires a significant investment of time—a lawyer’s most valuable commodity—a healthy percentage of attorneys avoid it altogether.
That’s a mistake.
Done correctly, networking can:
- Help you carve out a practice niche
- Introduce business development opportunities
- Present opportunities to receive or give mentoring
- Expose you to new ideas and industry trends
- Establish you as a skilled and dedicated legal practitioner
- Introduce you to local leaders, both in the legal field and in the community
- Provide volunteer and pro-bono experiences
- Increase your self-confidence
What is “networking,” really?
Networking is more than schmoozing and hobnobbing at happy hour. By definition, it’s the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.
Keep reading for tips that will help you get a major return on your networking investment.
It’s not about you
The most important key to successful networking is to give more than you take.
When meeting someone new, ask genuinely about their interests and successes. Offer assistance if someone expresses interest or has questions about your area of expertise. Share referrals if you come across potential clients who might be a better fit with someone else.
Switching the focus of networking from “Who can I meet and what can they do for me?” to “How can I help and what should I know?” will lead to authentic relationships of trust.
Put another way, it leads to the cultivation of productive professional relationships.
Measure twice, cut once
Properly preparing is the key to success in any endeavor, including networking. Before you head to a professional event, do some research.
Is there a specific theme or topic likely to be discussed by everyone in attendance? Make sure you can speak intelligently about it.
Will there be a lot of lawyers with a particular specialization there? Do a little digging into key issues in their practice area.
You don’t have to be an expert on everything, but a few well-formed opinions can open the door to a worthwhile conversation.
Consistent is better than perfect
If you wait to network until you’re in desperate need of contacts, business, or resources, your interactions will undoubtedly feel, and may even appear, transactional. You will likely also miss out on organic opportunities and partnerships that don’t usually materialize under pressure.
The more networking you do, and the more frequently you do it, the easier and more natural it will feel. The more natural it feels, the better your results will be.
Use face time and Facebook
There’s no denying the value of in-person networking, but it’s not the only player in the game.
Social media platforms, virtual events, and webinars all deliver valuable opportunities to meet, talk to, and learn from professionals outside your local stomping grounds, all from the comfort of your office or home.
While you shouldn’t completely eliminate face-to-face meetings, virtual networking is also more flexible (and usually more affordable) than in-person networking. You can bank several weeks worth of LinkedIn or Facebook posts on trending topics in an afternoon and then have a month’s worth of online conversations with contacts after the posts go live.
Follow-up and follow-through
Regardless of whether you make a new contact online or in-person, make sure to follow up with them via email or, if appropriate, text message. A quick “Nice to meet you, I enjoyed our conversation” helps you build a relationship that lasts beyond a conference happy hour and opens the door for future questions, referrals, and introductions.
Make networking work for everyone
Remember, networking isn’t about you.
It’s about building a community of like-minded professionals that you can be part of. Regular, consistent effort at building relationships won’t just improve your firm’s production and increase your client list. It will establish you as a trusted resource, a valuable leader, and a reliable colleague.
And that’s worth the effort.