Every lawyer needs a good network. With fellow lawyers, yes. But you need lots of other people in your network as well. And not just because it’s a source of good new business. Smart lawyers draw on (and give back to) their networks for ideas, introductions, information, collaboration and plenty of other things critical to a healthy law practice. Unfortunately, the oft-used term “networking” has become a mere buzzword — intimidating to the uninitiated and off-putting to many.
Networking Is About Nurturing Relationships
So let’s adjust that attitude with a collection of important tips and definitions to guide you in the earnest creation of your own network. A network that works for everyone involved — not just for you.
- Pretending to like people you really can’t stand on the off chance they will hire you is just bad form.
- You aren’t going to be able to build a network without leaving the safety of your office and home.
- You already have a network — you probably just don’t think of it that way.
- It is virtually impossible to build relationships with new people if you don’t carry something like a business card that you can easily share.
- You need a good elevator speech. Make it memorable.
- Never expect to receive before you give.
- You are here to help others — not to sell things to them.
- To truly hear what someone needs, you must be a good and conscientious listener.
- Be the host of the conversation. Make them comfortable. Make things go well for them.
- Ask questions. Be genuinely interested. How else will you learn about a new person?
- You can meet people you want to add to your network anywhere. Anywhere.
- Most people think “marketing” when they think “networking.” But building relationships with people is good for far more than just business development — although it doesn’t hurt that, either.
- You need a good handshake. Make sure your forearm is roughly parallel to the floor, grip firmly (don’t squeeze) and pump once … okay, maybe twice.
- Ask — don’t tell.
- While social media and email can be used to make new connections, they are best used to keep existing ones alive.
- Successful networking is a habit.
- Anyone will feel good about a conversation with you if you express interest in them. No need to flatter, just be interested.
- Smart networkers keep track of new information about people they know — what they do, who they know, birthdays, vacations. It improves your ability to help them.
- Hiring you will rarely be the answer to the problems of people in your network. But by providing answers — an introduction, a referral, information, new perspective, an invitation, a tip — you can demonstrate that you are a source of useful answers and that you want to help.
- You can’t attend every single networking event that might present opportunities. Develop your own criteria for selection — will your clients attend? Does it relate to your practice focus? Has someone with clout offered to make introductions?
- You never know who will end up changing your world.
- A glass of soda water with lemon serves the same purpose as a cocktail while allowing you to keep your edge.
- Don’t just introduce yourself. Introduce people to each other. (This is your chance to brag on someone!)
- It is smart to organize for networking: database, address list, thank-you reminders, holiday card ticklers and so on.
- Even if you are wearing a name badge, say your name out loud when you meet a new person. Some people remember what they read. Some remember what they hear.
- Wear your name badge on the same side as your handshake hand — that way their eyes will rest easily on the badge.
- If you read something online that reminds you of someone in your network, copy the URL and email it to them with a note. At a loss for words? Try “This made me think of you!”
- Steer away from topics of conversation that others may find controversial — religion, sex, politics — unless you already know you come down on the same side.
- Either manage what you post on social media in such a way that you avoid offending or get really, really good at setting (and minding) your privacy settings.
- If it’s an event where they’re serving hors d’oeuvres, eat before you go. Then your hands will be free for shaking.
- Learn to tell a good story.
- Help others achieve their goals. (Say thank you when they help you reach yours.)
- When out in public, carry your business cards in your right pocket. When presented with someone else’s card, place it in your left pocket. That way you’ll never get confused.
- It’s easy to initiate a business card exchange: “Have you got a card? I’d like to follow up on this conversation later.”
- Take care not to spread rumors — you never know who knows the person you may be gossiping about.
- Great networks don’t happen by accident. Plan.
- Body language speaks volumes. Keep your hands out of your pockets and don’t fold your arms when you’re socializing.
- Keep secrets to yourself.
- Be nice.
Merrilyn Astin Tarlton is Partner/Catalyst at Attorney at Work, a founding member of the Legal Marketing Association, a member of the LMA Hall of Fame, and a past President of the College of Law Practice Management. Follow her on Twitter @AstinTarlton.
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