Here’s what it isn’t—a buzzword thrown around to make your life more difficult, a get rich quick scheme or a magical way to generate sales or leads.
Instead, networking is simply meeting people and making connections without any assurance that it’ll directly bring profits to you or your firm in the future. The point is to build and develop mutually beneficial relationships that you can trust, as well as rely upon for support.
Consequently, you shouldn’t attend a networking event planning to walk away with hundreds of new clients or a seat on a Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee. Instead, go to the event seeking to speak with a specific number of people or a set number of new connections. This shift in mindset will help you come across as a genuinely interested person instead of a networking shark.
Below are a few tips on how to improve your networking skills:
Networking at Events
If you have access to a list of attendees make sure to review it prior to showing up. You may find people you already know or fellow law school alumni that can help you break the ice with new contacts. Additionally, you could do a little internet research to see if you have anything in common with other attendees (besides the topic of the event) such as similar practice areas or mutual co-counsel.
Have a goal
Identifying a set number of people to speak with ahead of time can help you to focus on engaging with others, rather than feeling overwhelmed by the large crowd.
You can also enhance how you interact with others by being conscientious about your positioning. Standing along the periphery of the room will provide you a quiet place to have deeper, one-on-one conversations, whereas being in a high-trafficked area, such as by the food or bar area, can maximize your chances of meeting a larger pool of people.
Lastly, if you don’t enjoy networking events or tend to be more introverted, you can make it your goal to stay for a dedicated period of time. Tell yourself that you will endure the event for 45 minutes and talk with at least 3 people during that time. This can help relieve any anxiety or nervousness about networking, plus give you an exit strategy.
Ask more questions than you answer
Networking is NOT a sales pitch or time to boast about yourself or your company. Try to focus on listening and asking questions to build rapport and engage with others. Ask about someone else’s background, their travel plans or work challenges versus trying to fill airtime with your own stories or interests.
Stay off your phone
Nothing says unapproachable and “I don’t want to be here” like scrolling through emails on your phone while everyone else is having conversations. Don’t be that person! These events typically come at a cost, so why would you waste your money and the opportunity to connect with others by sitting on your phone for 30 minutes?
Choose the right events
When it comes to the types of events to attend, this will depend on your practice area and personal interests. It’s much easier to start a conversation when you already know you have something in common with others in the audience. Lawyer-only groups, like you law school alumni meetings, can be great for lawyer-to-lawyer referrals, but may not widen your social circle. Mixed-professional networking groups, like a Business Network International (BNI) group, have an advantage of only allowing one person per profession per group. As the only lawyer in that professional networking group you can be the gatekeeper for legal referrals.
Networking on Social Media
Embrace social media to reach more colleagues and clients—but keep in mind your legal and ethical requirements. Here are a few great ways to start:
- Hunt for relevant and available Twitter handles (or, the name you’ll be identified by) and begin by posting timely legal news stories.
- Enter the blogosphere—add a blog to your website.
- Endorse others on LinkedIn. Take time once a week to recommend people you’ve worked with and respect. They’ll appreciate and remember the favor.
- Create a professional Facebook account. Keep it business-oriented (no “quiz results” or personal opinions).
Consultants often recommend following the Social Media Rule of Thirds: one-third of your posts should be about your personal brand, one-third should be thought-provoking posts on issues in your industry, and one-third is left for you to show your personality or portray your firm’s “human element.”
Post things that fascinate you, or crowd-source questions that people like to answer. It may even be a good place to research new vendors your firm may consider partnering with.
Know the Settings
Facebook privacy settings are constantly changing, as are other social media platforms. Ensure that you get the width of coverage with your posts (and no wider) by regularly checking to see if there have been any updates and be sure your selections match your objectives.
Networking doesn’t have to be a burden. By shifting your mentality about what results you want to achieve, plus having a game plan for events and how you present yourself on social media, you can reach more people in the legal industry and widen your circle of connections.