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Networking without a net

|Written By Jean Sorensen

Networking to find new business can strike fear in even the most seasoned lawyer, says Sarah Klinger, a practising lawyer with Victoria-based Cardinal Law, but there are ways to dial down the fear factor and enjoy the experience. 

“Networking is not about selling yourself, it’s about building relationships,” she says. “It’s about taking an interest in people.”

She gives the example of two physicians approaching a patient suffering a knee injury. The first lauds his credentials while the second displays empathy by stating, “that looks like it really hurts.”

“Which doctor do you think the patient identifies with?” asks Klinger, national chairwoman of the CBA’s young lawyers division, who speaks to law students on how to draw in new clients.

“I wish I had known in law school what I know now,” she says, adding that one’s fellow graduates will be one of three key pools to source new business.

Klinger, who practises employment law, sent some alumni colleagues a note. “I said I would be happy to review any severance packages,” she says.

She gained responses, but others also replied they had not been aware of her expertise in that area. New doors were opened.

Joining an organization such as the CBA can also extend a professional network, she says.

A second source of new business is one’s daily activities, says Klinger.

“It’s not hard,” she says, adding that this involves social club members, friends, or family. While with a local swim club, she drew in several new clients.

The third pool is external contacts — individuals met once or twice, that seem promising.

“Invite them to lunch,” she says, adding that she will often write a letter, as a professional introduction, setting out some point of interest in the individual’s work to discuss.

Klinger hates to use the term “cold calling” but prefers to look at these luncheons as initiating new relationships that will be useful over the long-term.

Klinger’s advice to new lawyers comes from personal experience — she graduated the University of Victoria in 2000. But, it also comes from attending a fall 2008 London conference for international young lawyers where speaker Pippa Blakemore “gave the most fantastic speech” on networking.

Blakemore, the strategic partner for The PEP Partnership LLP, is internationally recognized for expertise in business development, marketing, and sales for solicitors and barristers. She has worked for more than 45 national and international firms over the past 20 years. A cornerstone philosophy is that strategy has no value unless it produces objectively measurable results.

Klinger and Blakemore are currently working on a 30-minute podcast on how to successfully handle a wine and cheese party to gain networking benefits. Again, she says, it is unrealistic to expect to walk out with five new clients. But, it is possible to use the function to develop or extend new relationships.

The podcast, when ready, will be posted on the CBA’s web site in the young lawyer section.

“There will be a lot of tips,” she says, on aspects such as how to prepare for the event, a quick way to introduce oneself, how to tell if a group is approachable or “closed,” asking open-ended questions, and even how to exchange business cards.

Take the card in both hands and comment on it — the style or lettering, suggests Klinger, and then place it someplace secure. “Don’t just put it in your back pocket,” she says. Also, ensure that cards collected do not mix with your personal card.

“Nothing looks worse than flipping through a bunch of cards looking for yours,” she says.

She also suggests setting goals, such as finding five new people with whom professional relationships might develop before joining one’s own group of friends to socialize at the party.

“You are then rewarding yourself,” she says.

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