Build Your Network

Networking is where relationships -- and ideas – come from, and where things of value are shared

Mark Le Blanc

I was reading an article recently in which the author described attending a conference and being struck not by what was being said by the many speakers on stage, but by what was being discussed over coffees and drinks.

I am a huge believer in this. When you are relaxed and open, you can have real and authentic discussions of your experiences and ideas. This is where the real value of a conversation is. It just so happens that, particularly in a work-related environment such as a conference, it often comes over drinks.

And it is not just conferences. You can have these discussions more routinely. You can have them with your co-workers and with your peers. How often do you just grab a coffee or lunch with a co-worker? If you do, great. But, to get fresh perspectives on issues outside your organization, set up lunch or drinks with other inhouse counsel, or even other business leaders in your industry. If you are prepared to be open with your experiences and ideas, it will be reciprocated. You will be amazed at what you can learn.

Set goals and measure them

Challenge yourself and your team to routinely have coffee, lunches and drinks with peers outside the office. Build it into their schedules and performance agreements. It’s as valuable as any other form of learning; indeed, I would argue more so. It is a behavior you want to grow and reward. So, set goals and measure them.

Unlike your corporate organizational structure, which is inherent, you need to build your own network. It does not come with the job. It is your responsibility to build.

It takes time

Building your network takes time and isn’t something that can be done by phone or email. Nothing of value will come from someone you have not taken the time to build a relationship with — nor will they be open to listening to you. Networks consist of deep and real relationships. They take time to build. So, start now. At first, these will simply be opportunities to learn about each other as individuals: what interests them; their families and hobbies; where they come from, and more. Over time, as you get to know one another, the conversations will  naturally turns to work issues. More importantly, these conversations will be open discussions of ideas and experiences.

Things of value are only shared in trusted relationships. Be yourself, and be authentic. Listen and be interested and engaged. You will be surprised how much is offered: open discussions on matters that would normally be deep in the kimono.

Don’t reinvent the wheel; use your network

Next time you have a big issue to solve, particularly when it comes to the operation of a legal department, don’t feel like you have to start from scratch. Reach out to your network and see what others have done.

All of us are under the same pressures, and living with inefficiencies that prevent us from getting to the really interesting work that can truly move the needle for the organization. Unless you have the luxury of a full-time legal operations person, or are such a person, you will not be able to fully focus on solving these inefficiencies. But, you can be sure that someone in your network, likely several people, have dealt with this before. Furthermore, they will have learned important lessons from their implementation and acceptance.

This latter part is critical. You can implement any new process or system you choose, but, if those using the process or system won’t use it it is useless. Worse, you will have done a lot of work and will have nothing to show for it.

Explode the world of possibilities and improve outcomes

Unlike staff or consultants, networking is, for the most part, free. You have the cost of coffees and drinks, and the time taken to have them. But, without a network you will need to hire others to do much of the upfront thinking and ideation in order to formulate a plan or project. More importantly, you will limit the universe of ideas to those of you, your staff and consultants.

You will still need staff or consultant resources to execute a project. Yet, the further you can get along the path of formulating the idea into a plan, and the more awareness you can gather of the challenges ahead, the more effective and successful the project outcome.

Personal brand

As you grow your network you will find that it has the additional benefit of building your personal brand. Your brand is how others see you. You will start to be known for the things you offer to and reach out into your network for. As the old adage goes, “You are what you do, not what you say you'll do.” Your network is a reflection of what you do as a lawyer.

Network to success – for your organization and your personal brand

Ideas can come from you, your team, those in your organization, and those in your network. Those from outside your organization can explode your potential for creative solutions. Without a deep and robust network, your organization effectively has blinders on.

If you want to drive change in your organization or simply keep pace with the change being thrust upon you by your industry, your network is critical in helping you drive change or meet the change faster, cheaper and, most importantly, with better outcomes. It will also help you shape and grow your personal brand. If you see yourself as a T-shaped modern inhouse counsel, you must constantly be building your network.

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