Networking Pro Tip: Know Who’s Doing the Favor

by Law School Toolbox
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help imageWe’ve talked a lot about legal networking on Trebuchet (including several not to-dos). Why? Because most lawyers and law students hate networking, but we all know it’s important!

One reason people hate “networking” is that it feels like you’re asking for a favor. Which — frankly — you are!

The good news is that most people like doing favors…as long as it’s clear that you know when they’re doing you a favor.

Otherwise, bad things happen, and your networking efforts can fail in dramatic fashion.

For example …

A Networking Not-To-Do

I got an email the other week, totally out of the blue, from someone I’d never heard of. This person wanted my help on a new project they were working on and demanded that I speak to them on the phone. (Note, this should have been red flag number one! If you’re asking a favor, let the person you’re reaching out to dictate how they’d like to communicate, to the extent possible.)

I replied via email, asking for more details, since it didn’t seem like the project was actually very related to anything that I do. Appearances to the contrary, this person insisted it was a good fit, so I agreed to a call. (Why? Because I’m too nice, but that’s a subject for another post.)

So we set the call up…at a not-particularly-convenient time in my time zone. (Another tip: If you’re asking a favor for someone in a different time zone, make the meeting convenient for them not for you.)

Long story short, the call begins and we chat for a few minutes. Things are going more-or-less okay, and — being too nice — I was willing to help on out the project, despite having no particular expertise or interest in the topic. (This project, by the way, would have involved a not-insignificant investment of my time for something highly unlikely to benefit me in any meaningful way. So, a clear favor.)

And then…

“I’m going to need you to get the details of your mailing list analytics — I want at least 5,000 people.”

“Excuse me, you need what? Why exactly would I waste my time getting that for you?”

Cue record screeching to a halt as our relationship dies a flaming death…I’ll leave the rest of the call to your imagination, but suffice it to say it wasn’t pretty.

7 Tips for Not Pissing Off Your Networking Targets

So, assuming you’re clear on who’s doing the favor (Hint: If you’re asking for something, it’s probably the other person), how can you avoid annoying the person you’d like to help you? A few practical tips:

  1. Meet when it’s convenient for them. You’re asking for help — you can get up early or stay up late. And, when you discuss timing, send the options in their time zone. Minor? Yes, but it suggests you’re a thoughtful person.
  2. Supply the number, or make the call. Yes, I have a conference number. No, I shouldn’t have to use it when you want to set up a call with me and your friend. If we need to conference multiple people in, send your conference number (Google “free conference call number” if you don’t have one). If it’s just the two of us, get my number and call me. And be on time — early and late are not okay in this context.
  3. Go to them. If you’re meeting in person, meet at a location that’s convenient for them. When someone has to travel, it should be you. End of story.
  4. Think carefully about what you’re asking for. If you ask for an informational interview, that’s all you get. It’s not acceptable to ask for a job during the interview. Likewise, if you’re asking someone to record a video with you, it’s (barely) acceptable to ask if they’ll help you promote it. (Arguably, this is a stupid question, because of course people will promote things they participate in, assuming said thing doesn’t totally suck in the end.) But it’s definitely not acceptable to demand their analytics data! That’s just a step too far.
  5. Make things easy for them. As a lawyer, perhaps you believe anyone who works on your genius new project should sign an NDA. Newsflash, no one who’s doing you a favor has time to read and edit a long document that doesn’t benefit them in any way. So just don’t send it. If you insist on sending a contract, make it under a paragraph. (And, even then, you’re probably being an idiot.)
  6. Say thank you. If someone agrees to a speak with you (or work with you, or whatever), they’re spending time on your behalf that could be spent on more (personally) productive pursuits. A simple, “I really appreciate you making the time to talk with me today,” can go a long way. As can, “I’d love to return the favor. Please let me know if there’s ever anything I can do for you.”
  7. Be humble. Really, this one sums it up. It’s fine to ask for favors, and people are typically happy to help — as long as you’re humble and appreciative. But you need to be clear on what you have to offer, which — in many cases — is nothing other than your gratitude. If that’s all you’ve got, recognize that fact, and just be clear that you’re asking for a favor, not doing one!

Pay attention to these tips, and you might be amazed at how much help people will give you.

Ignore them, and I’m not sure things will go so well. (Shit lists exist for a reason. People will remember. You’ve been warned.)

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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