An essential component of getting your foot in the door of the legal profession, furthering your legal career and building your practice is networking.
Many of us loathe the idea of coming up to a stranger and starting a conversation. Turning that conversation into a meaningful connection can be even more daunting.
Networking plays into a number of anxieties people have. These include fear of public speaking, shyness, and other forms of insecurities. Some may simply find it inauthentic to make friends or connections for the simple sake of furthering one’s career. Others just don’t know how to go about networking.
But it can be done and if it is done well, you can be very successful.
FINDING NETWORKING EVENTS
The very first and most important part of the equation is to find those networks you’d like to participate in. There are many organizations and associations serving the legal profession in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and elsewhere in Canada and more than enough to start off your networking adventure.
If you went to school in Toronto or other university centres in Canada, you can or will be invited to various alumni events where you can try your hand at networking in a comfortable and familiar environment.
Your provincial or territorial Bar Association and applicable Law Society hold seminars and events in Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and across Canada.
Their meetings and seminars are meant to provide continuing education, and recognize and honour contributions to the legal profession. They also help start or continue networking conversations. There are several other local, regional and national groups or associations you can join or participate in, including specialty groups focusing on legal fields such as litigation and intellectual property.
These groups often partner with other legal organizations, diverse community groups, colleges, universities, and governments to further the dialogue and networking opportunities. They also offer the opportunity to engage in public advocacy, a passion you may not have known you had.
Regardless, attending these types of events and activities are a great way to network, learn about other networking opportunities, pursue relevant interests and make lasting and beneficial contacts.
Just do an internet search to find associations and interest groups that hold regular networking events and conferences. If you are a junior lawyer you can often join or attend these events at a reduced rate.
Once you’ve found a great event to attend, the next step is to make meaningful connections, in order to get the maximum value out of your time and the event.
Coming in with a positive attitude is extremely important. To start a meaningful relationship, it is vital to make a strong first impression. Your attitude will determine how you approach people and how you are approached. Be optimistic, smile, make eye contact, and don’t be afraid to meet new people and introduce yourself.
It is important to get out of your comfort zone and separate yourself from the types of people or group you’re already familiar with. Say ‘hello’ and have a conversation with your new connections.
It is often useful to observe the super networkers in the room. You will know who they are almost immediately. They will have a broad smile, a warm air about them, and seem to know absolutely everyone. The super networker will move quickly from person to person and group to group, greeting and having a short chat with everyone.
Super networked have the ability to start and hold brief and interesting conversations. Observe these people and learn from them. They can teach you a lot about networking. Go ahead and introduce yourself. Have a conversation with the pro and ask how he or she does it and seek their advice as someone just starting out on the networking adventure.
Another useful tip is to offer your help during or before the event. If there is something you can do well, a skill that comes in handy at such an event, such as organizing a guest list, taking photos or acting as a guide – go ahead and volunteer. You’ll meet the organizers, speakers, and attendees naturally and help out at the same time.
Once you have secured some contacts that share your interests, or have paved the way for further discussions, be sure to add them on all available social networks. Be mindful of those who don’t like to use social media. After all, the tried and true approach of simply exchanging telephone numbers and meeting for a coffee certainly can work too!
Don’t wait too long to get in touch with your contacts. Be mindful of how you make your follow-up notes or requests. If, during your conversation at the networking event, it turns out that you comment interests or activities, try to mention that. Don’t send out generic requests or follow-ups.
Try to set up a meeting or chat during the lunch hour or right after work hours. You will want to keep it professional in order to send the right message. Meetings or coffee should be brief as everyone including you is busy.
To solidify your connections you may want to go over some of the things you talked about at the networking event and then discuss your mutual interests. It is also useful if possible to connect on the basis of your hobbies or shared interests. For example, perhaps you both like to play golf or you are both avid readers and happen to like the same authors. The more unique the shared hobby or interest, the stronger the connection will be. If you discover you have common hobbies or interests, you will probably have made a friend for life.
Remember that networking is not just about working. Networking is also another way of making new acquaintances and friends.
Don’t shy away from taking the first step. There are lots of great people and potential contacts out there. The networking opportunities are endless!