Before we dive in this week, if you are anything like me and can’t just drive down to Texas but still want to help, here’s a great article from NPR on a variety of ways and organizations that you can support to help with the clean up and displacement of more than 40,000 people in Houston. Please do what you can — helping each other heal is what makes this country so great. My heart aches for the victims of Hurricane Harvey and it’s only the beginning of hurricane season.
Now, on to our main subject — networking.
GROAN. I hear you. Instead of calling it networking, let’s call it building your circle of people and influence. Since your circle is who you turn to when you need something — parenting advice, career advice, job search advice, what movie to watch, etc. — making real connections is key. And it’s not as hard as you think.
When I left my large firm in 2009 and started a boutique ediscovery practice, I was not only giving up the instant credibility that came with being a partner in a large firm, I was starting a niche practice area that very few acknowledged was even a legitimate practice area (some still don’t, and that’s to your detriment, but we’ll discuss that later). And to call out the elephant in the room, my gender makes it even harder to be taken seriously out of the gate. I’ve found that the best way to build my practice has been to get out and be seen. So, to that end, here are seven tips for you on how to network internally and externally to start building your sphere of influence:
- Get to Know Your Coworkers. Your best networking is with the people you see everyday. Learn what they are working on. Ask the senior partners if they can have lunch and then ask them for advice. I used to ask if you had one piece of advice to give me from your time practicing, what would it be? You’ll be amazed at the great advice you get. And lawyers love to know people want to learn. It may seem cliché, but do it. Then, you’ll also be on that person’s radar when a new case comes up. A partner at my former firm took me out to lunch when I was a summer associate and told me (after two hours) that what he and I learned from reading the same case were two different things. When I asked him to explain, he went through all of the takeaways he learns from a case other than the holding. It was, without a doubt, one of the best lessons I’ve ever had. To this day, I use the same mental checklist when reading a case that he gave me, and I teach it to all my folks who work with me and at eDiscovery Assistant. Go out after work and have casual conversations about your interests; it doesn’t always have to be about work. People like to work with people they like. You’re likable, so get out there. Be real — drop the act. You don’t have to be more than what you are. Hit all of your practice group luncheons, associate/partner meetings and anything else where you can get to know your colleagues. You either already or will have clients and you will want folks in other practice areas to help those clients. Relationships help you chose those lawyers and feel confident that they will have the same desire to build the client relationship that you have. Also, meeting people in your office does NOT just mean lawyers. Meet the folks in finance, IT, paralegals, litigation support, HR, etc. You WILL need to know them and ask for their help. Go to their desks; don’t make them come to you. You are a person, not a god, or even a demi-god.
- Leave Your Door Open. We go in our offices and close our doors, thus closing off any personal interactions we may have in the office. As we move more and more towards virtual offices (we are predominantly virtual), you lose those connections. People can’t stop by and see if you can handle a new case if your door is closed. Yes, close it when you need to concentrate, then open it up. I once got involved in a huge matter with the managing partner of my firm because he overheard me standing my ground with opposing counsel who was a jerk and wanted me on the matter. (Okay, maybe I yelled a bit. Or a lot.) That’s a true story.
- Get out of your office and attend everything you can (to start). Obviously this has to be within reason, but you should go to any event that you can go to for now. Judge’s Night? Check. Local bar association get together at the pub? Check. You don’t have to drink, and sometimes it’s better not to — club soda with lime is my choice for networking events. Mom’s group having brown bag lunch? Check. If you have a firm CLE budget, choose events that are outside your comfort zone, with new people. Go and sit in the middle of the room so that you can meet people AND be engaged. Talk to the speaker afterwards and ask if you can reach out to them with questions.
- ALWAYS carry your business card, but always ask for the other person’s too. You need to have your card handy. If you’re a solo or small firm and the firm doesn’t provide cards for you, try Vistaprint or Moo.com for inexpensive, nice-looking business cards. Seriously, $40. Get some made. But giving someone your card only works if they reach out to you, so you need their card to reach out to them. “Do you have a card?” works just fine. And if they don’t, connect via LinkedIn and get their email that way. Many firms also have contacts on their websites that you can download. Start building a database of contacts. I met new moms at my daughter’s cross country meet last week, and because we were standing in the middle of the field, the easiest thing was to give them my card to drop me an email so our kids could get together. One was a lawyer as well. That’s how business development happens when you aren’t thinking about it.
- FOLLOW UP and engage. Another former partner of mine gave me this fabulous tip: Whenever he meets someone, he writes down one thing he remembers from the conversation and follows up with a handwritten note to make a personal connection. If they gave him a card, he’d write it on the card. That was almost 18 years ago, and few folks send handwritten notes now, which means they mean even more. I got one a few weeks ago from the lawyer that moderated a panel I sat on during a conference, and it made me reach out immediately. An email is good, a note is better.
- Use the Telephone or have lunch. Email is BAD, BAD, BAD for relationships. You need personal interaction, intonation in your voice and sincerity to build relationships. In-person meetings are best, but when you aren’t at that level yet, or you can’t get one due to locations, pick up the phone. Email threads are NOT conversations. Even leaving a sincere voicemail is better than a perpetual email relationship.
- Speak. No matter what stage of your career you are in, you can speak about something to a group of people. People want to speak to folks who know enough to speak to them. Don’t sit back and wait for folks to ask you — call up your local bar association and tell them about a topic you are interested in speaking on and make it happen. Tell your marketing department what you want to do and have them help you make killer slides and then put them on Slideshare afterwards and connect it to your LinkedIn profile. The SEO for those is amazing.
Walking into a room full of people you don’t know and aren’t sure you have anything to say to can be daunting. I know, I’ve probably done it a thousand times now, and it never gets easier. But networking events are the same for everyone, and you just need to walk up to a group of folks and introduce yourself and join in. If that conversation doesn’t work, move to the next one. Go to the 30 minutes before the CLE program starts and talk to people. Stay for the social part afterwards. Ask them why they came and what their practice is and then go from there. I can tell you that I have done events with five people in the room (yes, five) and gotten a new client from it.
You can do it. You NEED to do it. Get out there. And let me know how it goes.
Kelly Twigger gave up the golden handcuffs of her Biglaw partnership to start ESI Attorneys, an eDiscovery and information law Firm, in 2009. She is passionate about teaching lawyers and legal professionals how to think about and use ESI to win, and does so regularly for her clients. The Wisconsin State Bar named Kelly a Legal Innovator in 2014 for her development of eDiscovery Assistant— an online research and eDiscovery playbook for lawyers and legal professionals. When she’s not thinking, writing or talking about ESI, Kelly is wandering in the mountains of Colorado, or watching Kentucky basketball. You can reach her by email at Kelly@ediscoveryassistant.com or on Twitter: @kellytwigger.