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What networking ISN’T

networkingAfter writing about the importance of workplace conversational skills in my last blog, I recently found myself attending an event hosted by a prominent law firm. Of course, I can’t kid myself that I was the intended audience for this festivity—in my current capacity, I am neither a client nor a potential client, and this “event” was put on solely with the intent of attracting work. But the friend I was with is a potential client, and one whom they would love to get work from….

It was crowded when we arrived, but I soon realized that most of the people milling around were from the hosting firm (probably yanked from their desks to “go network”). My friend and I were separated at the door, due to her being cornered by a senior partner, so I began introducing myself to a few people, all of whom, it transpired, being members of the firm. Their reaction to me was amusing: at first, they were all attention, but once these young lawyers learned I was merely “the friend of” and not linked to a large company with work-giving potential, their faces instantly gave them away. (“Shit! She can’t be the new and important client I’m looking for… in fact, she can’t even give me any work… what am I going to talk about here? And why should I bother?”)

Luckily, I couldn’t take this personally. (I write in my book Juggling the Big 3 for Lawyers about my youthful self taking a very similar view to networking—and only later learning exactly how self-defeating this tactic can be!)

However, the contrast was still stark. On one side of the room was me: frankly, not what my hosts were looking for. On the other side of the room was my friend: the centre of attention, flooded with hospitality and questions (the best opening gambit there is—see my previous blog!). The trouble was that she wasn’t being asked the right or the appropriate questions… In fact, rather than being made to feel appreciated, more than once she was directly asked if she had any “deals going” or work to give out.

As my friend and I left the event, we rolled our eyes and laughed about having spent a wasted hour in the midst of a room full of lawyers so cluelessly obvious in their perceived objective that they lost any opportunity of making a connection with either one of us.

We had come to network—but on our definition of the term…not theirs.

In short, networking is not about entering a room and meeting the perfect client (and it’s certainly not about instantly discounting someone who doesn’t currently fit that bill). Instead it’s about hoping (and trying) to make a connection with the people—by taking a genuine interest in them and maybe even discovering something in common, and even, if you desire, a reason to initiate a relationship. (“I’ll send you that restaurant recommendation” will do. In fact, almost anything will do, other than complete desperation for business!)

There is a skill involved, but one that should be within the grasp of any capable lawyer. To start with, all you have to do is step away from that all-encompassing objective of “what can you do for me?”, and instead think about “what can I do for you?”

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