But despite networking’s inarguable value, lawyers often find it to be a challenge—even a downright chore. While effective networking takes time, effort and research, the potential rewards—discovering a mentor, stumbling upon a highly sought after position or simply learning something new and relevant—are invaluable. The reality is, like it or not, getting out there and networking is critical to your success.
A recent Fast Company article offered three best practices for effective business networking, and these rules apply perfectly to the legal profession. First, the author suggests, never leave a networking event without scheduling a follow-up meeting with at least one other person in attendance, particularly someone you don’t know well. While this may be intimidating, consider the fact that everyone at the event is also there to network and like you, probably knows few people in the room. Find someone who looks approachable, and start up a conversation. Turn that conversation into coffee on a later date. “Getting a ‘yes’ to coffee is usually easiest. The coffee meeting is attractive for the target because it is informal and not time consuming,” Mike Evers wrote in an InsideCounsel column about maximizing conference networking opportunities.
Second, make networking a priority by committing several hours a month to this effort. Online networking—such as LinkedIn—is an excellent starting point and something you can do on your schedule. In an hour, you can find and connect with individuals in similar positions. In a few hours, you can build your own social media presence, sharing relevant articles and information with your peers, giving yourself exposure in your field.
“We live in an increasingly ‘connected’ world,” says E.M. Lysonge, VP, Legal Affairs at Churchill Downs Inc., in our Counsel Q&A this month. “As we receive and process information more in real-time, on a global scale, through social media, it is increasingly more important to expand who you know. … Each day provides us the unique opportunity to learn from one another and grow as professionals and human-beings.”
I highly encourage you to make that next step effort and plan one lunch per month. Invite a peer, mentor, or even a well networked outside service provider. Use the LinkedIn network you are building to go beyond your core comfort group of friends and colleagues for the lunch invites. Real relationship building happens in-person, not online.
Nurture your strongest connections. Maintain contact with those individuals and make an effort to meet with them regularly.
I’ll add one more to this strong list of best practices—which I consider to be the cardinal rule of networking: Listen more than you speak. As Dale Carnegie famously said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”