I have met many lawyers who genuinely do not enjoy networking in the traditional sense. They identify themselves as introverts and feel that engaging in small talk or attending a social event is a waste of their time.
By their definition of networking, they are correct. However, over the years, I have learned that networking is not just about joining groups and attending all functions including those that we may find uninteresting. Networking is about building business partnerships, expanding our client base, and finding better jobs or new employees by making positive and lasting impressions on people we meet.
Many lawyers network by participating in their local bar association. Other lawyers network by volunteering within their community, joining a club, or actively participating in their children’s activities. The key is to redefine networking to what works for you.
Some basic thoughts to consider to help you get the most out of your networking include the following:
Don’t join dozens of organizations and causes just to say you are a member. Likewise, don’t attend every function just to say you attended. Joining a group or participating in an activity that you support and are genuinely interested in will make the process far more enjoyable and, consequently, far more effective from a networking point of view.
No matter what associations or involvements you enjoy, make it your goal to be an active member. Being active is time consuming and may require that you be involved in no more than one or two activities at a time. Not to worry. Many great networkers are known for being leaders in one or two activities only.
Develop positive relationships:
We benefit by surrounding ourselves with good people. When you meet these people take note of their name; if you have a difficult time remembering names, ask for a business card or record their details on your phone, and make a point of saying “hi” when you see them again.
When meeting people for the first time, ask open questions (who, what, where, and why) as this form of questioning will open up the discussion and show that you are interested. Make eye contact and engage in active listening. All of this shows that you care and will help build rapport and trust.
Networking serves as a starting point for new relationships. By being yourself, as opposed to someone you think others wish to meet, the people you connect with will be the ones you want to connect with.
Oftentimes while networking, you will be invited to another event or to an engagement and whether you intend to go or not, follow up. It is important to engage with the invitation to show your appreciation. Networking isn’t just about making connections but maintaining them also. Back when I first started law school, I was asked by an Italian family to Sunday dinner at their home. I had other plans but cancelled them and attended the dinner. The hosts became my family away from home and for the next three years while attending law school, I enjoyed a wholesome Italian dinner, accompanied by delicious wine and wonderful companionship. The Sunday dinners also provided me the opportunity to make many other new friends and acquaintances from the Victoria area.
Networking is not just about your career and referrals. You benefit from being around others and having a healthy social life, learning more about your profession, and meeting interesting people. Being pushy and opportunistic is not tactful and may come across as arrogant. Consider not volunteering your professional information unless it is specifically requested.
Think twice about mixing your lawyer side with your social relationships:
If you are at your kid’s soccer game or a social function, avoid using the opportunity to gain referrals or turn acquaintances into clients. Just enjoy yourself and be who you are. People respect integrity and consistency. If you do otherwise, you may make others feel uncomfortable and disinterested in building any type of a relationship.
Networking is both an art and a science. What works for some will not work for everyone. The key is finding what works for you, staying active, and enjoying the process.