- Networking should tie back to your goals. Perhaps more importantly, why are you networking? What strategies might you pursue to achieve your goals?
There is a beautiful three mile walk through our village streets, woods and riverfront. Many times, people will pause and say hello. Recently, another walker and I started to converse about work and life, and we exchanged our business contact information. To me, that is the essence of networking: being open to the possibilities that may arise in any interaction, no matter where you are.
Whether you are beginning your legal career or are an experienced attorney, there is always more to learn about networking and how you may use your skills to develop both your business and your network. Keep in mind, however, that the tactics that work for one person may not work for another. Networking works best when you develop it in a way that embraces who you are.
Networking should tie back to your goals. Perhaps more importantly, why are you networking? What strategies might you pursue to achieve your goals? Choose tactics that you enjoy and do well.
If you enjoy speaking, there are many opportunities for speaking engagements, both in person and virtually. Speaking may establish you as a thought leader on a particular topic. So, where can you find speaking opportunities? Continuing legal education is a good place to start. Bar associations—including the ABA, Inns of Court and state organizations— often prepare and plan CLE courses and are happy to offer members the chance to present. Check out the websites of national companies, such as Lawline, Quimbee or Practising Law Institute (PLI), with whom you can start a relationship and become a regular presenter.
Who are the people to contact if you’re interested in becoming a presenter? One way is to look at the provider faculty list and see if you know anyone who has already worked with them. Another way is to look on LinkedIn for the director of attorney education and send them a note expressing your interest, including your specialties. Before you reach out, review the course catalog so you can provide content that the organization hasn’t yet covered. In some states, law firms can become qualified to provide CLEs. Is your law firm CLE qualified? That’s often a good—and supportive—place to start.
Over the years, I’ve been a presenter for my law firm, Lawline, USA 500, the New York Women’s Bar Association, the New York State Bar Association and the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York. This works for me since I enjoy researching, speaking and meeting people. A CLE, though, is not the only speaking avenue. There are panel discussion opportunities and lunch and learns, too, sponsored by both legal organizations and business groups. Speaking also allows you to bring others along, including law firm associates, legal colleagues and business colleagues.
Why take the time to prepare and present a CLE? One of my best referral sources is an attorney who watched several of my Lawline CLEs—he’s a solo, and I’ve been able to be his value-add for his clients individually and by providing access to the various departments in our law firm. Further, you may find that people recognize you. I gave a talk to a business group in California last month. The leader of the group had been told by an attorney friend that I was a good speaker, which was one of the reasons he felt comfortable asking me to speak in front of two of his business groups.
Podcasts are another avenue to use your speaking skills and showcase your expertise. You can ask to be a guest on your law firm’s podcast—it’s a lot of fun to be interviewed! Or think about creating your own podcast or spearheading your firm’s effort. Many of the attorneys you meet may not specialize in your area: If they are podcasters, ask to be a guest. You may have a great story to tell via a podcast focused on business and your area of expertise.
After a speaking engagement, one best practice is to follow up by distributing takeaways directly to the participants. This allows the attendees to have a cheat sheet on your topic and keeps you top of mind for a referral. Don’t forget social media. Once your takeaways are completed, post about the speaking engagement, including any interesting questions asked by the participants and some of your takeaways.
But what if speaking is simply not of interest? That’s okay. Have you heard the expression “Content is king, but distribution is queen”? Does your firm or company distribute legal alerts? Offer to write an article. Ask to write an article for an organization to which you belong, and then use every means at your disposal to distribute it: Post it online, ask others to share it and update the content whenever there is a new development.
How might you find publications that want your content? Outside of your own firm or membership organization, there are two other avenues for publication— legal publications in your field and trade and industry publications. Make a list of these publications. Include the ones that you read. Often, if you are familiar with a publication, reaching out to the editor is natural since you have a basis for the first conversation. Take a look at your competitors; where are they publishing?
You may also be familiar with the phrase “pay for play.” Many trade and industry groups offer speaking and writing opportunities only to those firms or companies that pay a sponsorship fee. Depending on the details, these arrangements might work well for you and your firm. Why? Some of the sponsorships provide direct access to the C-suite executives who are in your target market. You might be placed at a table with the general counsel of a company who has an issue that you’ve already solved for another client. But it’s important to do your research. Is the trade or industry group well-established? Who has spoken at their events? Once you’ve vetted the group, don’t be shy; ask questions so that you have a good understanding of what you’ll receive in return for the sponsorship.
Legal organizations. Legal organizations provide excellent opportunities for networking. These include national and state bar associations as well as other groups in your field. In my practice areas (intellectual property, privacy and cybersecurity), there are many, including the International Trademark Association, the American Intellectual Property Law Association and the International Association of Privacy Professionals. You may choose to attend an event or become more involved by joining a committee. There are general groups, too, such as USA 500, which provide a forum for attorneys and other professionals in different practice areas to develop relationships, but they also have practice-specific roundtables. Getting to know attorneys in your practice area nationwide is an excellent way of learning from others in your field and becoming a resource for others.
Business organizations. Most attorneys I’ve met focus on membership in legal groups, but I’ve found that membership in business groups is great for networking. A well-run business group, such as Vistage, with members from the C-suite in various industries, can provide valuable insights regarding the problems that your prospective clients may face and how they communicate with attorneys to resolve them. While Vistage has been a valuable networking experience for me, even more valuable are the personal relationships I’ve developed with Vistage colleagues, as well as the access to thought leaders and personal mentoring opportunities. Other national groups include Business Network International, chambers of commerce, and industry and trade associations important to your clients.
Alumni groups. Your undergraduate university and your law school are good places to make connections with others with whom you have a common bond. And you don’t need to be restricted to legal matters. If you have an interest in entrepreneurship or climate change, for instance, either school may have alumni groups focused on that topic.
Nonprofits. Many people have causes about which they are quite passionate. Volunteering may include finding an organization and volunteering at one or more events (virtual or in person) or volunteering to be on the board. My passion is financial education for women, and I was fortunate to be on the ground floor when Savvy Ladies was founded. Being on a board gives an attorney the chance to see governance in action, build leadership skills, and assist in crafting bylaws and managing compliance.
Mentoring. Acting as a mentor is also a good way of meeting people and establishing long-term relationships. Even if your law firm doesn’t have a mentoring program, you can still act as a mentor to associates in your firm—and perhaps start your firm’s mentoring program. Legal mentoring opportunities can be found through mentoring circles or programs at bar associations, but business mentoring is also something to consider—both allow you to meet leaders who are interested in giving back. In groups focused on growing new businesses, such as Ossining Innovates, each mentor and mentee are paired for a year, which gives the relationship the opportunity to develop.
These various networking groups are online, too, so meeting and connecting with people virtually is not only a COVID-19-related phenomenon. LinkedIn is another way of connecting with people who may not be in these groups but with whom you have a common interest. But, as with any social media interaction, it’s important to vet the person before you simply accept the invitation.
Now that you have some ideas about how to network, it’s important to think about why you are networking. What is your goal? The consummate networkers whom I know don’t just connect with people in person or online and consider that the end of their networking story. The point is to establish genuine relationships with those connections. What many articles about networking may not tell you is that networking and establishing deep relationships takes time.
How do you find time given your busy schedule? Rather than looking at networking as a chore, build it into your legal life. If you are in a law firm environment, find out if your hours spent networking count, and if so, how your firm expects you to allot those hours and track your successes. Do you have a customer relationship management system? If so, use it regularly to track your interactions with networking connections. If you don’t have such a system, consider using HubSpot, Salesforce or Oracle NetSuite. Even a simple table in Word or Excel works if you diligently enter the information.
You will define what is successful for you. For me, success is defined by the relationships I have developed with other attorneys and business colleagues and the referrals that have been made as a result. My goal has always been to be a trusted advisor and to continue to learn from everyone I meet.
What skills are important to being your best networking self? Listening to others is one of the most important tools in the toolbox of many networkers. Asking clarifying questions comes next. Remember, your goal is to have more than a superficial relationship. Asking “Why did you go to law school?” or “Why did you choose your law firm?” or “What is the business issue that keeps you up at night?” are questions that are more likely to move your conversation to the next level as a start to building a real, trusted relationship. Of course, be prepared to reciprocate. And be responsive: One major complaint is lack of responsiveness. If you promise to set up a meeting, do it! The ability to follow up is a hallmark of successful networking.
Intertwined within these skills is your knowledge that your expertise can solve a problem, either directly for a client or via the advice you, as a trusted advisor, provide to a fellow attorney or business colleague. Even if your expertise might not be what your counterpart is seeking, your network may have the right person for the job.
Networking can be overwhelming. You don’t have to do it alone. In the first year of law school, we had a study group of four people. We weren’t shy about putting forth our own unique perspectives and feedback, and we were accountable to each other. We developed tactics and strategies that led to success for each one of us. Consider using this cohort idea in your networking.
Find other attorneys (both within and outside of your firm or company) and nonattorney business colleagues who are also interested in sharpening their networking skills and working together. Use the power of the group to help everyone achieve their goals. I use this tactic, and it has been most successful when the partner or group is not like me: I look for people diverse in background, thought and action. There is no limit—you can have more than one accountability partner or success group to help you on your networking journey.