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Networking can be viewed as initiating, building, and maintaining relationships for the purpose of furthering professional, educational, or charitable activities.
Many people enter law school and even practice law without fully appreciating how important networking is to achieving their career goals. Networking, when done right, can lead to many career opportunities, build your brand and credibility, and ultimately drive revenue. Below, you’ll find information and tips to help you build and improve your communication skills.
Why lawyers need to communicate
Attorneys seeking to maximize their professional potential must continually seek opportunities to build relationships with people both within and outside their field. Networks provide the opportunity to:
- Getting to know other lawyers in the same field of practice and sharing knowledge regarding trends and developments, which may lead to job opportunities (professional networking),
- Meeting lawyers in other practice areas and exchanging views and insights on different areas of law (educational networking), and
- Meet professionals in other industries who can highlight potential opportunities for for-profit work (rainfall industry) or pro bono work (charitable networking).
Effective communication can also lead lawyers to learn about new career opportunities outside the legal field if they consider moving to another profession at some point during their career.
Why can communication be difficult?
Many people struggle to communicate. It can feel awkward and artificial when approaching someone, and it can also trigger feelings of rejection if you’re having a hard time initiating conversations. If you find it difficult to communicate, it is important to remember that you are not alone. Almost everyone, at some point, struggles with making connections, which is why there are so many articles, blogs, and webinars that focus on how to communicate effectively. Remember, too, that everyone who attends a networking event is there for the same purpose – to make a connection and establish relationships that can reap future benefits.
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Keys to great communication
Understanding the root word used in networking – “work”
It’s called networking for a reason — because it works. It takes dedicated time and effort to start connecting and responding to others and taking that extra step to set yourself apart from the crowd. Good networkers not only maintain consistent communications, but also provide value in return to their contacts. This could include an introduction to someone already in your network who they’d like to meet or forward an article about their industry or area of practice that might interest them.
Constantly attending networking and industry events
Developing effective communication skills requires regular attendance at events where you can practice when and how to communicate with the professionals you want to invite to your network. The more events you attend, the more comfortable you’ll feel starting stimulating conversations with other professionals that can mature into long-lasting and prosperous connections. Make networking part of your professional schedule. If you prioritize it the same way you prioritize other commitments, it is less likely to fall off your agenda.
At its core, networking is simply networking with others to build professional friendships. So be curious about the people you interact with. Talk about careers, hobbies, passions, and life in general. Don’t shy away from social or non-work topics – you may find that you both enjoy a certain kind of music, literature, a sport, etc. It is just as likely (if not more likely) that these interests build a strong relationship as the fact that you have similar professional interests.
Be observant, engaging, interesting and curious. If you find it difficult to start a conversation, look for visual cues that can help you. For example, you can mention something you like about the place. There are many visual cues to start a conversation if you’re very observant, and you notice those things that other people can’t make an impression on.
You can help others connect with you by providing visual cues that help them identify the things that matter to you. Wear a pin that denotes something you care about – a sports team, college or organization – or other professional and eye-catching apparel/accessory that can draw attention and lead to interesting discussions. Style and color are your friends!
Think about reaching out to a friend
If networking makes you uncomfortable, consider making friends. A mate can help you message and make conversations more fluid – and if you don’t like talking about yourself, your partner can talk about you instead. But remember, this won’t work if you end up only talking to each other.
Practice listening and understanding more than speaking
The only thing that can distinguish a lawyer seeking to create new relationships (and not in a good way) is more talking than listening. If you’re not giving the person you’re introduced to a chance to tell you about themselves because you’re too busy talking, you’re missing out on making your audience feel valued and important. It’s good to talk about yourself – in fact, you need it so that they know what makes you interesting and unique. However, focus more on getting to know the person you’re talking to by asking questions and listening for answers. Remember Teddy Roosevelt’s famous quote – “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Remember, it’s not just about you
Networking is a two-way relationship. You must be open and available to help others in the same way that you hope others will one day help you. There are several ways you can achieve this. Watch for things they find interesting – for example, news about their profession, hobby or passion – and guide them in their direction. Read the things they post — from social media posts to articles — and tell them when you find it particularly helpful or interesting. It is these little things that create positive associations and desire to help you succeed. That way, when the right opportunity presents itself, you’ll be the first person they think of calling. And when someone needs help and you can offer it, do so with kindness. Over time, this will lead to you becoming a trusted and reliable ally.
Use social media carefully
There are social media platforms that exist solely for networking purposes, and these platforms can be extremely helpful in initiating and developing effective networking relationships. They can provide a great deal of information about a person’s educational and professional background that you can use in deciding how best to start communication with a potential contact.
When inviting someone you’ve never met to be a social media outreach, customize your introductory message as much as possible. For example, you could say that you noticed that they went to the same law school as you and would like to connect with fellow graduates or acknowledge an insightful comment they made in a webinar. Simply saying “Hey, I’d like to join your network” doesn’t convey the authenticity you should show on your first contact attempt and may not appeal to your audience.
Consider using technology to help you communicate
Although the exchange of paper business cards is common at networking events, technology is increasingly allowing greater networking opportunities beyond simply swiping a card with your contact information. More professionals are using digital business cards that offer more flexibility and benefits than paper business cards. Some business networking apps have a Find Nearby feature that allows you to connect with attorneys and other business professionals near you at the event you’re attending. Technology also allows you to book follow-up meetings instantly, if the opportunity arises, so be sure to open your calendar app. Technology also provides more opportunities to connect with people who share similar interests. So if you find that you are not connecting at traditional networking events, use technology to find and meet people.
Never try to sell too hard at a networking event
It may seem counterintuitive, but many professionals (including attorneys) attend networking events with the idea of reaping the reward right away — whether it’s a job offer, a new client, or another career development opportunity. If they are not successful, they will largely regard their presence as wasted time. This approach is not only likely to lead to disappointment, but it can also make people uncomfortable and unwilling to have a relationship with you. Keep in mind that networking is about relationships, not sales.
Play the long game
Great relationships are rarely developed overnight – a fact that’s all too apparent when it comes to communication. Having an interesting conversation at a networking event doesn’t automatically equate to developing a worthwhile connection, so don’t rush forward. We appreciate that good communication is a gradual process that takes time, commitment and perseverance. It’s important to strike a balance between staying on your new contact’s radar and respecting their space and busy lifestyle at the same time.
Always follow up with a “thank you” after the initial encounter
It can be easy to have an interesting conversation with someone you just met while exchanging smiles and business cards. However, the mistake many networkers make is to never follow up with this person after the initial introduction. Continuity in dialogue is the key to great communication, and some do it better than others. Be sure to follow up with new contacts within 24 hours of meeting them with a quick email, text or phone call, letting them know how much you enjoy their company. Try to include something specific they said in your first conversation with them. When you take into account how many people we all talk to in one day, it can be helpful to remember exactly who you are.