Networking Done Right - 9 Simple Steps for Lawyers

by JD Supra Perspectives

How many times have you gone to an event and been left feeling you would have been better off billing more hours? How can you justify time away from the office when you aren’t gaining tangible opportunities?

Networking is an essential tool to great business development. This includes streaming new contacts and opportunities, providing a giver’s gain mindset, and strengthening relationships you already possess. It is face-time marketing. Networking is a prime opportunity to put your business on display, and it is the most effective way to stay top of mind.

The Problem

Many attorneys face the networking dilemma: year after year, they attend events and seem to get very little from them. They would like to think that the event must have just been a dud, but let’s take a minute to look at the common denominator: THEM. 

Where many falter is in the approach to networking itself. We meander into an event looking for someone we know, or only attend if we have a friend to take the awkward sting off meeting new people and being alone. We buy tickets for a table and surround ourselves with friends, clients, our “knowns.” Or worse, some even attempt to avoid people by keeping their eyes on their screens, using the restroom, going to get drinks, etc. We shy from meeting anyone new, because it is uncomfortable. We stick with the easy, the comfortable, the path of least resistance. 

...we are unwilling to dive into opportunities that could be fruitful because we let fear get in the way.

This does not mean that there is not merit in strengthening relationships with your “knowns” - that is always vital to growing business. Where the trouble lies is that we are unwilling to dive into opportunities that could be fruitful because we let fear get in the way.

The practice of removing fear from networking is not an easy one, but the more that you push out the fear and utilize the below information, the more success you will see in your networking, and the easier this process becomes.

The Solution

1. Stop sitting with people you know.

Even if you make the “mistake” of buying a table at an event, you can still make this work. Find someone sitting at your table that you don’t know, or know the least, or leave a couple of open spots and before sitting down, scope out people to sit with you. Get creative with how you pull people into your orbit. If there is open seating, find someone to sit with. Do not run off into the corner and take a call/check email/close yourself off. We all want to connect, and we all struggle to do the “hard” things like talk to people we don’t know.

2. Learn the art of small talk.

Leverage an acronym to help to figure out what to talk about if you are having trouble getting started. I use my NEW FORDS© method:

  • News - Discuss current events
  • Education - Where they attended school, etc.
  • Weather - Current/recent weather patterns (sounds silly, but works)
  • Family - Ask about family
  • Occupation - What they do for a living
  • Recreation - What they do for fun
  • Dreams - What they would love to do, great ideas they have, philanthropic work
  • Special - belt, bag, anything you could ask them about that might tell you a story

3. Hang out where the food is.

If the event you are attending has a bar or buffet, you will most certainly find people hanging around these areas. Go. Eat. Prosper.

4. Be smart about controversial topics.

While healthy discussions and intelligent debates are fine, you run the chance of conversation heading south quickly. Use caution before starting any hot button political conversations.

5. Be a listening ninja.

Listen to someone as if they are the most fascinating human being you have ever encountered. We underestimate the value of listening, and worse, of hearing people. When you have attended events, and when you think of people you most enjoy spending time with, why do you like them? Often, we most enjoy those people that seem to take genuine interest in you.

On some level, we all want to have our egos polished, and good listeners do that - they learn about us, build us up, and ask questions with fascination. Be this person and a world of opportunity will open to you.

We underestimate the value of listening, and worse, of hearing people.

6. Non-Verbal Communication is underrated.

When you speak to people, your non-verbal cues can speak volumes. There is a whole area of research on this so I won’t go too deep here. Maintain good (not awkward) eye contact, do not cross your arms, mirror the person you are with, and always be turned toward them when speaking to one another.

7. Remember names. 

We could spend days discussing methods to remembering someone’s name. Keep it simple. Use the repeat method - simply repeat the person’s name in your head a couple of times. If you forget their name, your best choice is to own up to it. Other options include introducing the acquaintance to someone else to catch it a second time, or getting their business card.

8. Treat everyone as worthy, but manage your time well.

You do not know truly what opportunity your relationship with a new contact can bring, so treat everyone as worth your time. We sometimes make the mistake of not giving people our time when we cannot see the immediate benefits. Sally Jane might “only” be an executive assistant, but she could know 35 people in your target client demographic. You will not always know where a relationship with a contact will lead. If the contact truly doesn’t make sense, then politely excuse yourself. Be respectfully discerning with the amount of time you have available to you, and who you spend that time with.

9. Follow up ... and follow up immediately.

Take the time, even if this means an extra 20 minutes before you can go to sleep after an already long day, and you have had to bill a more hours after leaving your event. DO IT. It is so easy with the environment that attorneys are in to put these things to the side, because they don’t demand attention or priority. Do not mistake the lack of fire to mean that there is no smoke. It is very easy to forget the content of a conversation when you wait too long.

(For more details on the art of follow up, you can contact me or stay tuned on JD Supra for my article on the subject.)

Ultimately, your best success will be to keep things simple and leverage my tips above. Don’t take yourself too seriously, and remember: you are likely in the same boat as everyone else, so cut yourself some slack!


[Kaziah Howard is the Director of Business Development for Society 54. You can contact her at or through JD Supra]

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