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February 27, 2023

Chair’s Column

Networking: How Do it Like a Pro and Why You Should, plus networking opportunities at the upcoming Emerging Issues in Healthcare Law Conference in San Diego

By Kathy Poppitt, King & Spalding LLP, Austin, TX

I open this month’s column with a fun story that sounds straight out of a Hallmark or Lifetime movie but illustrates the benefits of taking the time to build your network of connections. Earlier this month, my firm had its first in-person partner retreat in three years. It took place at the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, and it was so wonderful to see people in person again. One evening, I was walking through the lobby and a woman and her husband, about my age, headed towards me. She exclaimed that she loved my earrings (there may have been tequila involved on her part). We got to talking, as Southern women are prone to do, and she told me that she was an attorney in Baton Rouge, and her husband had transitioned from the practice of law to being a partner in a private equity group. At the mention of Baton Rouge, I asked if they knew Clay Countryman (Immediate Past Chair of the Health Law Section). I was not at all surprised when they said they did know Clay as I have never met anyone from Baton Rouge who didn’t! We headed to the bar, where we talked about work, children, and the fact that the husband’s company is looking for new legal counsel. I eventually gave him my card and headed on my way. Later that evening, I told my partners who work with private equity companies in the relevant space about this conversation. They have since reached out to the private equity group and a potential engagement is in the works.

Particularly since the pandemic, we have been relying on social media, texting, and videoconferencing for communicating with others. These are not substitutes for the personal contact, attention, and commitment necessary for building lasting relationships and a sustainable career as an attorney. Successful lawyers know that building such a career depends on maintaining and expanding relationships with your colleagues, existing clients, and potential new clients. You can’t do that unless you’re engaging with people and genuinely committed to helping others. While the time available to devote to networking activities may vary, the benefits of doing so are equal for law firm partners, associates, and in-house counsel.

Professional networking is a great way to meet new people and uncover opportunities that will have a lasting impact on your legal practice. Whether you are fresh out of law school or looking for a way to network with your law firm, networking is a surefire way to build mutually beneficial professional relationships. These connections will help with business development, offer professional development opportunities, and act as essential referral sources when you need them the most. It is important to realize that these efforts usually do not have immediate results, although I would love to hear from you if they do! It is rare to attend a dinner and secure a new client with this one touch. Networking is usually a long-term commitment and process.

Making connections doesn’t necessarily have to be speaking about your law firm. It is often better to listen to what the other person has to say and to recognize topics that you’re mutually passionate about or that are of interest to people who might be potential clients. By having these interactions and conversations, you can develop a circle of people with whom you can:

  1.  access information you would not otherwise have;
  2. make yourself known to a pool of people who you would not otherwise know and who might serve as future expert sources of information, referrals, and references, with access to information about jobs, developments within your firm or company, happenings in the legal market, clients with business they can give you and your firm, and more, all of which are essential to your success as an attorney;
  3. be known to sources of information relevant to your career, which is important for long-term success. What others outside your immediate circle of influence know is arguably just as important as what people inside your immediate circle know and can help keep you up to date on what other attorneys see as the emerging issues of the day;
  4.  practice interacting with other lawyers and potential clients to improve your communication skills become; and
  5. know you have a robust professional network behind you that can lend you a hand and their legal expertise.

Whether you are networking with a peer or a potential new client, it's essential to put the relationship first. People-first connections will be more beneficial in the long run for both parties. If you are not completely comfortable in crowds and find your self at a loss as to what to talk about, it can be helpful to have a set of talking points determined ahead of time. I recommend initially focusing on the others you are talking to prior to diving into your credentials or expertise. (I say this as a reminder for myself!) Here are some examples of talking points, but you will want to come up with topics that work for you:

  • Where are you from, and how did you get where you are now?
  • What do you do for a living/where to you work?
  • How long have you been in your current role?
  • What projects are you working on right now?
  • Do you enjoy what you do?
  • What do you find most challenging or interesting?
  • Where do you see the industry going in the near future?
  • What do you like to do for fun?
  • What services are you looking for?

While you will need to find your own comfort level in doing so, do not forget to make clear with the person who you are talking to that you are looking for  additional projects, more involvement with their group, opportunities to vie for additional work from a client or potential client; or the chance to discuss employment opportunities.

With so many of us used to working from home and bombarded by client/firm/employer demands, it can be difficult to see the benefits of taking PTO or non-billable time to get out, travel, and meet people in person. But that is short-term thinking and is less likely to lead to a sustainable practice or to be as personally rewarding as prying yourself out of your office and heading out to a lunch, a happy hour, client event, or conference. After years of doing this, I have good HLS friends whom I can ask sticky legal questions, request documents (de-identified of course) from, share life’s moments with, and truly enjoy seeing at the conferences. It doesn’t happen overnight, but with some time and diligence, the HLS can be one of your greatest professional resources.

I invite you either stretch your networking wings or put your honed skills to work at the Health Law Section’s flagship program Emerging Issues in Healthcare Law (EMI), starting March 8 in San Diego. There are a number of receptions, golfing events, and other opportunities to meet and greet your colleagues, clients, potential clients, referral sources, and experts.

Please know that the HLS leadership is here to facilitate your involvement in the Section and that you can call on us at any time. I look forward to working with and talking to each of you over the next bar year and look forward to any feedback or suggestions you have.

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