Young lawyers look around during networking events and wonder how come they too can’t spontaneously meet and have meaningful discussions with lawyers from prominent firms — like everyone else seems to be. Here’s a tip: They aren’t spontaneous.
Most conversations at these affairs are rarely going to be worthwhile, because you will likely have little in common with them (unless perhaps you went to high school together). Of course, you may stumble upon something you share in common with someone that can serve as an entire evening’s entertainment (it’s happened to me), but waiting for that to spontaneously occur is not a good use of your time.
You need to go to a networking event with an agenda and a strategy. There’s lots of opportunities there for career advancement from people you don’t even know – but only if you lay the groundwork beforehand:
- Find out if a friend or colleague is going, and make arrangements to meet up. This may prove to be a good source of future connections.
- Find out at the event if a friend or colleague knows any of the speakers relevant to you; then contact the speaker for a plausible reason or meet him or her prior to their presentation. This is a great way to make the acquaintance of prominent attorneys or experts – or lawyers or experts who become prominent – whom you can rely on in the future.
- Invite your contacts at the event to invite their contacts at the event to get together – hosted by you.
- Check out the speakers on Linked-in for first- or second-degree connections; then make contact.
- If there’s an important topic that was left out of the agenda, point it out to the organizer and volunteer to fill it.
- Have a plan. Figure out what you want to achieve, in what order, with whom, and by what instrumentality. Don’t overreach. You don’t need to be wildly successful; for a single repeating event, just three or four new contacts each year can become thirty or forty new contacts over time – just from a single type of annual event.
If you keep firmly in mind that networking is not (primarily) for making new contacts, but rather for consolidating old contacts, you will rapidly be unable to service the clientele you have developed.