Tips for effective professional networking

August 6, 2014

people-networkToday we come to the final, and arguably most important, topic of this series: networking.

As with the previous two posts, this topic was briefly touched on in the first of these posts.  However, considering the importance and potential magnitude of the activity, two paragraphs simply doesn’t do the topic justice.

First, let’s discuss why networking is so important.  As I stated before, who you know is often the most decisive factor in finding employment – often trumping actual qualifications.  Thus, you can see why it’s important to network and get connected with new people if you’re trying to find work.

But “networking” is easier said than done: it’s one thing to decide that you want to connect with more attorneys and legal professionals, but it’s something else entirely to actually put yourself in the position of socializing and forming relationships with these individuals.  To help with that, here are some tips for successful networking.

Join practice area-specific groups

These groups consist of practicing attorneys within a specific practice area.  The purpose of these groups is to connect with other attorneys – i.e., to network – for both social and professional reasons.  Maybe some attorneys are newer and looking for guidance within the field.  Others enjoy the opportunity to get to know the attorneys practicing the same type of law in their area.  Still others use these groups for professional advancement.

If you plan on joining such a group, make sure that you’ve been engaged in the practice of law to some degree or another (see this post for tips on doing that).  If you’re hoping to connect with a potential future employer, you should appear as someone who is keeping his or her legal mind finely-tuned – someone that could smoothly transition into working in this prospective employer’s law firm.

Don’t expect immediate results here.  But if you are well-liked among the group’s members and become particularly involved in group activities, you will almost certainly see some kind of results.

Keep in touch with your law school classmates

Clearly, you shouldn’t force a friendship with a classmate that never existed in law school, but the people that you were friends with in law school often connect with a variety of attorneys – some of which may be looking for new associates.  Even if you aren’t looking to get hired into a law firm – preferring instead to stick to a solo practice – former classmates can be a great source of referrals (as often happens, existing clients will ask their attorney about a separate problem outside of his or her practice area, and ask if he or she know any other attorneys that practice in that area).

Keeping in touch doesn’t have to be a major time investment.  It could be something as simple as exchanging emails or going out to coffee.  Just something that keeps you in the front of that person’s mind and keeps them up on what you’re currently doing.

Socialize at CLEs

CLEs (or their equivalent in your state) are something that attorneys in nearly every jurisdiction have to attend.  In other words, you will see attorneys from all levels of experience at these events.  And it would behoove you to stick around and attend any social time allotted by these programs – which are often even explicitly referred to as “networking time.”

I would recommend against specifically targeting attorneys that appear to be in the position of hiring you.  You can’t really tell that from appearances, and you’re cutting yourself off from a large potential networking pool.

Instead, just socialize with everyone.  Discuss your legal activities, and ask about those of others.  Make an impression on everyone, and bring plenty of business cards (if you don’t have any, get some, even if all they have on them is your contact information and “Attorney at Law”).

You never know what kind of opportunities will present themselves from the people that you meet at these gatherings.  But what you do know is that professional advancements come to those who are remembered fondly by other professionals in their field.

And that should be the goal of your networking endeavors.