Recently I attended a program at an AM LAW 100 firm to benefit young women lawyers. The firm has supported my Best Friends at the Bar program from the beginning, and I return the favor by attending their programs and presenting programs for them. I enjoy the energy of the young lawyers who attend those programs, and I appreciate the seasoned lawyers who participate to help develop young talent.
This particular program addressed a number of topics, including the importance of networking — a typically dreaded subject for young lawyers who want to hide out in the bathroom or pretend to be on the phone when faced with a room full of unknowns. I could sense the discomfort of young program attendees when the subject was introduced. For my part, I assured them that even seasoned lawyers can be challenged by these kinds of cold introductions and conversations. Fortunately , however, breaking into a room full of unknowns is not the only kind of effective networking.
A recent article on Above The Law addressed some of these issues. The author, a 2003 law school graduate, lamented the absence of social media networking opportunities in the early years of her practice. Her emphasis was on how the digital world has transformed the way lawyers socialize and network. The “unfettered access” to lawyers across the globe that is possible via social media is a game-changer, and the ability to profile yourself and your practice on some social media platforms is a huge benefit to developing your unique brand.
But her message was not all about social media. She also addressed networking within the office and building meaningful connections there to develop your talent and access valuable mentoring. Adding legal recruiters and bar association colleagues to your networks was also discussed.
All of these things are important, especially social media like LinkedIn, which enables young lawyers to reach out in ways that are comfortable for them. However, the challenge of the less comfortable venues for networking is important also and should not be ignored. Have confidence in your ability to walk into a group, introduce yourself, and join a conversation. Be assured that your background and experience is something of value to share and that others will welcome your presence in their conversations. Practice your opening remarks for that situation in the same way that you (hopefully) practice your elevator speech.
My best advice for starting challenging networking conversations is to ask people about themselves. Lawyers typically love to talk about themselves so you will be on solid ground. With luck, eventually the conversation will turn to you and your experience or, at the very least, you will exchange contact information with those you have met.
Networking is a process, and it is critically important. Having a professional network can lead to important contacts and clients — exactly what you need to impress your firm and climb the ladder of success.