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Suggestions to Make Networking Easier and Less Intimidating

March 28, 2018

Networking can be personally and professionally rewarding. However, networking can also be intimidating for attorneys of all experience levels. It is also hard to define. You may have been told to “network more” during your year-end review or want to develop more business contacts. Knowing what is expected in terms of networking and how to be comfortable networking is not easy. The term networking originally referred to structures in animals and plants when it was first used in the 17th century and came into more popular use in the 19th century when it was used to refer to canal systems and the railways. Like animal and plant structures, canals, and railways, business networking is about making and maintaining connections.

When I graduated law school, most of my close friends returned to other cities and it felt as if I did not know any local practicing attorneys of any experience level. I did not have the chance to meet other young attorneys at work either. Going to a cocktail event by myself was not the most appealing prospect, so it was difficult to know how to begin to network. I joined the local bar association at a friend’s suggestion and slowly started to meet other attorneys through a program designed to introduce young attorneys to the association’s divisions, committees and sections. Each event I attended was an opportunity to meet other attorneys and with practice and over time, connecting with people has become easier.
I offer the following suggestions from personal experience, friends, and colleagues, on ways to connect with people that may help make networking easier and less intimidating.

Be Curious
Curiosity is a good quality for an attorney and a conversationalist.  When you meet someone, find out about that person in a genuine way. Asking questions may reveal shared interests that moves the conversation past cursory topics such as “what do you do?” Ask others what is important to them and what problems they face in their position. You may learn that the person owns a company whose employees would be affected by a proposed Department of Labor overtime rule. If so, you could introduce them to a contact that practices employment law or offer to assist yourself.

Ask your contacts to introduce you to someone you do not know that practices in your area of law, or who shares another mutual interest. Chances are the connections you already have are the best source of new contacts. If you register for an event, try to find out if anyone you know is going. Event organizers will often share a registration list beforehand. You could ask another attendee to get coffee before the event to introduce yourself or catch up with them if you already know each other.

Set a Networking Goal
Set a networking goal for yourself so that you are more likely to make networking a priority. For example, plan to attend one charity event a month or have coffee with a law school colleague two times a month. A district judge in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania suggests attorneys meet monthly with a small group of like-minded people to discuss networking efforts, issues at work, and ways to support each other with their career goals. This Judge met with her group over high tea at a historic downtown hotel. If networking is one of your goals for 2018, invite others to events you plan to attend and ask others to inform you of events they are attending.

Spend Time Doing What You Love
If you do not enjoy traditional cocktail networking events, do not spend your networking time at these events. Go hiking, take a photography class, visit a museum, join a French conversation group or book club, play tennis, go to concerts, and invite others to join you. Many law firm profiles list attorneys’ personal interests. Reach out to an attorney if you come across a shared interest on his or her profile. Many bar associations organize sports leagues where you could meet attorneys of all experience levels and areas of practice. If you do things you enjoy, chances are you will meet new people when you are relaxed and comfortable.

Be Creative
If you have not seen any networking events that appeal to you, you could plan and host an event that is interesting to you. My firm recently hosted nonprofit organizations interested in having attorney board members in a speed networking-style event with young attorneys.  Chances are other attorneys you work with are involved with nonprofit organizations. You could offer to host a cocktail party to introduce other young attorneys to leaders of the nonprofits.  Or, consider starting a monthly supper club for contacts who enjoy trying new restaurants.  Think about what kind of event would be interesting to you and plan it yourself.

Give Back to Others
Volunteering for an organization has many benefits, including meeting people outside of your legal network. Board service is also a good way to develop and refine skills that are helpful in any position, including critical thinking, organization, and business development. Other volunteers will have a shared interest in the organization, which will facilitate a deeper connection. Join your local neighborhood civic organization, volunteer for a political campaign, support a local theater company, or volunteer your time with a professional organization.

Follow-Up With Your Connections
Developing a relationship with someone does not begin and end at the first meeting. Tell people you meet that you will follow-up with them and then do it. Ask a contact to lunch or coffee if you see they changed jobs or invite friends to a CLE program that you think sounds interesting. Personalized stationary can stand out in an electronic age. Consider sending someone a note congratulating them on a recent presentation or thanking them for answering a question for a friend.

The common theme of these suggestions is if you do things you enjoy, you will be more comfortable and relaxed and develop more meaningful relationships with people than you may otherwise. I hope that at least one suggestion spurs you to try something new and approach networking in a different way.

Reprinted with permission from the March 28, 2018 edition of the Legal Intelligencer© 2018 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. – 877-257-3382 -