Networking: Start Early and Don’t Stop

NetworkingI’ve written a lot about networking lately, but there are good reasons for it.  First, there have recently been some wonderful programs, featuring experienced lawyers sharing their best networking tips.  Further, listening to these pros from different practice areas and settings, the point is driven home that, like any other skill worth learning, effective networking takes attention and practice.

Here’s an analogy I’ve used with numerous career coaching clients.  Networking is a lot like dieting and exercising for weight loss.  If you do a little bit almost every day, you won’t find yourself in a positions where you have to do a lot of it all at once.

Below are some more practical tips shared at a Women’s Bar Association of Illinois panel event in January entitled “How to Network your Way to the Top.”  The panelists included Stacey Austin of Wang Kobayashi Austin; Pamela Belyn of Boodell & Domanskis; Deanna Blair of Blair Caravelli; Jennifer Mikulina of McDermott Will & Emery; and Adria Mossing of Mossing & Navarre. Michelle Kohut, president of WBAI, moderated.

Tips On Networking To The Top

  1. Strategize.  Knowing your target audience is the first step in figuring out how to reach them.  One panelist noted she’d wasted a lot of time and energy trying to reach small business owners before realizing it was easier to reach other service providers to those owners, whose referrals have become her best source of new business. Within your own organization, figure out which colleagues and clients you want to work with, and ask to do so.
  2. Evaluate. Set aside time each quarter (or at least each year) to figure out which of your networking activities worked, and which didn’t. For one of the panelists, activity on charitable boards didn’t pay off as much as creating relationships in other departments of her law firm.
  3. Be nice to everyone.  People who are peers now may be your boss—or your client—at some point in the future. The guy sitting next to you on the plane may make a key introduction for you. Your opponent may refer an important client to you. You never know who will turn out to be a valuable contact.
  4. Emphasize quality over quantity.   Making one or two real connections at an event is better than collecting 20 business cards.
  5. Use social media, but don’t neglect face-to-face contact.  Several panelists emphasized the difficulty of nurturing a business relationship online.  Follow up with coffee, lunch or another activity.
  6. The power of snail mail. After a case, follow up with personal letters to clients, opponents and witnesses.
  7. Make sure that your online presence furthers your business purposes.  If you only post about diversity issues, your contacts are not likely to know that you’d like to be handling trademark matters. Join online groups related to your practice area, or one you’d like to move into.
  8. Don’t forget the work.  One panelist cited a colleague’s advice as among the most important she’d received: “A major part of networking is doing first-rate work for your clients, both internal and external.”
  9. Accept help.  Many people actually want to see you succeed.  Accept their help with grace and gratitude, then pay it both forward and backward.

Have any of these approaches worked for you?  Share your stories and other networking ideas here.

Katherine Erwin

Katherine Erwin

As the Commission's Special Projects Director, Katherine managed the statewide attorney mentoring program and other special projects. She practiced law in Chicago for 20 years. Then she founded the Chicago office of a legal placement agency, and placed highly credentialed attorneys in law firms, corporate legal departments and governmental agencies. Most recently, Kathy served in the Career Services Office of the University of Chicago Law School. A graduate of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business and the University of Michigan Law School, she lives in Lincoln Park with her husband and daughter.

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Katherine Erwin

Katherine Erwin

As the Commission's Special Projects Director, Katherine managed the statewide attorney mentoring program and other special projects. She practiced law in Chicago for 20 years. Then she founded the Chicago office of a legal placement agency, and placed highly credentialed attorneys in law firms, corporate legal departments and governmental agencies. Most recently, Kathy served in the Career Services Office of the University of Chicago Law School. A graduate of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business and the University of Michigan Law School, she lives in Lincoln Park with her husband and daughter.

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