Physical distancing doesn’t undermine the importance of networking and staying in touch
We are living through challenging times. Both of us have spent years advocating for the need for lawyers to get out there, to socialize and make an effort to grow their networks. However, the last few months have taken a heavy toll on people and on our customary social norms. Social isolating has become the buzz phrase, and the main push in controlling the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 . For sound medical reasons people are being asked to keep their distance from each other at work, in the streets and, occasionally, even in our own homes.
We cannot effectively measure now the long-term impact that these changes will have on our psychological health as social beings, as people move away from face-to-face interactions and increasingly toward technological devices to keep us connected.
Some of the best developmental opportunities, especially early on in our careers, came from attending legal conferences, joining committees and attending the numerous legal association, law firm and informal get-togethers. Many spectacular events have already had to be postponed or cancelled altogether. We must be careful that we do not lose the value of face-to-face interaction, because notwithstanding the recent advice and trends, it is critical that lawyers still grow their networks, build relationships and continue to be an instrumental and contributing member of their legal community.
So what can all of us do about it? Here are some ideas that we came up with:
- Join and attend as many online conferences and meetings as possible. It will take some time to get used to these, but soon you will realize that their ability to connect colleagues may overcome the fact that you are not in the same physical room. But there is a caveat: you must make this a priority when in the conference or meeting. We are as guilty as anyone in being distracted by an incoming phone call, browsing the internet or scrolling through our smartphones. All of this serves to disengage us from the meeting and diminishes its value.
- Online meeting organizers should make an effort to introduce themselves and allow participants to do so, too, so as to make the experience more personable and ensure connections can still be made.
- While you can’t meet others in person, set up online social activities: virtual coffee meetings, lunches and after-work drinks. There is technology that will bring your group into your living room and, as a bonus, there will be less cleaning up to do afterward.
- As the old telephone company jingle used to say, “reach out and touch someone,” meaning, call a loved one. Over time, with the advent of email and texting, we are telephoning less to say hello; yet there is still great value in the more personal voice-to-voice conversation, so pick up the phone.
- Offer to help in these challenging times (pro bono), if and where you can. You likely have more free time owing to saving the commute to your office, and there are plenty of organizations that need help in these challenging times.
Additionally, in the absence of being able to network in person, perhaps it is (finally?) time to fully engage in one of the social networks geared to business professionals that have been with us for the past decade. For most lawyers, LinkedIn may be the likely platform of choice given its general acceptance in the legal and business communities. LinkedIn is not simply a passive tool to keep track of colleagues and peers; advanced users know how to leverage the platform to benefit not only their networks but their reputation and influence. And as little as some in the legal community may care about being a social influencer, it is a key differentiator for those who seek to exponentially grow their network for professional and personal reasons.
So, rather than waiting for a second- or third-degree LinkedIn connection to make the first move and request to connect with you, take the initiative in making the request. In these times, where people are looking for personal connection (and may also have a little more time on their hands), extending invitations to connect may be well-received. As well, consider creating a hub for yourself on LinkedIn by joining groups or forming new groups for like-minded lawyers that are similarly situated, whether by industry or geographic location. Also consider posting thought leadership pieces, or reposting other articles and posts of interest.
Adversity creates opportunities. Simply because you are physically isolating does not mean you must disengage from those around you, including in our legal community.
Fernando Garcia is VP Legal and General Counsel for Cargojet, providing strategic and legal advice on Canada-wide and international operations, labour relations and employment law, and all general legal matters.
Peter Nguyen is General Counsel, Corporate Secretary and Privacy Officer of Resolver Inc., a cloud-based, integrated risk management software company, where he provides advice on corporate-commercial, M&A, employment, corporate finance and privacy law.