Most of the best lawyers I’ve placed at top firms and companies are effective networkers. They usually have an excellent professional network and deep ties to the community. But even the best can become better networkers.
Having a strong network benefits you in myriad ways. Attorneys with strong networks often build and maintain good books of business. A large and diverse book of business brings job security and opportunities in the legal community. Successful attorneys consistently meet with and serve diverse people within the organizations in which they participate. The relationships they build often lead to client relationships or other business opportunities.
Maintaining a network of professionals is especially important for in-house counsel positions. In-house attorneys enjoy the benefit of not needing to balance multiple clients or generate new business. However, even the best in-house positions can sour or end, often with no fault of the attorney. Companies can be sold or acquired, changing the structure of the business and the legal positions with the organization. Phoenix is a small market and, as such, in-house attorneys need to maintain relationships outside their company in case the need for a move arises.
NETWORKING: A DIRTY WORD?
In almost every profession the need for strong professional connections is essential for success. For many attorneys, however, the word “networking” conveys a negative image. I often hear accounts of “networking” at its worst. Attorneys offer terrible accounts of behavior they have observed and state that they don’t want to come across as smarmy or feel like they are selling something. I hear stories that bring to mind the worst stereotypes of the used car salesman. If you are looking to improve your network and maintain your standards as a professional, here are a couple ideas to help you get started.
NO. 1: REALIZE WHAT YOU HAVE TO OFFER
From Shakespeare to SNL, our culture focuses on the worst the legal profession has to offer. However, at its heart, the legal profession is about service. Remember the moments in your career when you have fixed someone’s problem, given much-needed reassurance to a client, or offered a solution to someone seeking your guidance. Think about your practice and what you can offer attorneys and other professionals. To make a good connection, you need to understand your value and what you can bring to the table in new relationships.
NO. 2: BE SINCERE AND LISTEN
One of my greatest mentors had a sign on her desk that read, “Shut up and listen.” It served as a reminder to listen to those that came to her for counsel. When potential clients came to her for assistance she gave them her full attention and asked sincere questions.
How can you connect with someone if you don’t listen to them? From the oft-quoted Maya Angelou, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” Almost every good book on networking focuses on listening, asking questions, and making others feel valued. If you make someone else feel heard, they are more likely to remember you in a positive way.
NO. 3: HAVE REALISTIC GOALS AND EXPECTATIONS
Having realistic goals before going into a networking situation will help you be more successful. For example, handing out 100 business cards at a state bar event is not only an unrealistic goal, but likely an ineffective one. If you were to hand out that many cards the majority would probably find their way to the trash.
Alternatively, focusing on sincere and meaningful connections takes time. If you are going to a CLE luncheon, have a goal of getting to know two to three new people. Focus on making a positive, memorable impression and learning more about their practice.
NO. 4: LOOK FOR POSITIVE EXAMPLES
I recently attended a CLE luncheon and was seated next to a bankruptcy attorney. The attorney was a perfect networker. He shared information about himself and his practice but kept the focus on others at the table. He asked insightful questions that allowed the other attorneys to share what they did and their successes. At the end of the luncheon almost everyone asked him for his card. He gave other people the opportunity to feel good about their practices and in turn the table felt positively about him.
By looking for positive examples of connection we can build our own skills.
NO. 5: FOLLOW UP
Business cards are great, but we live in a day and age where almost everything happens online. If you had a positive conversation with a potential contact or client, follow up with an email or invitation to connect on LinkedIn. A simple follow up can go a long way and also provides means for the connection to contact you in case of a referral.