Attorneys know that to build a growing practice, they have to network. But what they may not understand is that networking should not be a passive pursuit; to be successful, lawyers must network actively and with skill.
Here are some helpful suggestions to get you started.
Establish short-term and long-term goals.
A short-term objective might be to simply attend an event and meet other lawyers, corporate executives, or entrepreneurs. However, it's not enough to merely show up. Make your appearance worthwhile: Mingle. Get to know someone else in attendance - and make sure they learn something about you. A long-term goal contributes toward branding yourself as an attorney specializing in a certain area of practice; fostering a fulfilling relationship with a colleague outside your office; or introducing yourself to a possible referral source.
Craft a compelling elevator pitch.
Be prepared to introduce yourself and make an impression in 30 seconds. The key is preparation. You must be able to succinctly describe your practice and your client base. If you are talking with other lawyers, it may be fine to use words like "litigation" and "plaintiff." But remember, that vocabulary may be unfamiliar and confusing to a layperson. So ditch the legal speak and opt for words that the referral source or potential client will understand. Be polite, concise, and above all, make your pitch memorable.
Few people are comfortable walking into a room filled with strangers. Meeting people is hard work; making connections is even harder. If your first conversation is a bust, don't fret. Move on and try again.
Create face time.
The Internet helps build connections. If there is someone in particular you want to connect with, linking up via websites such Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn is a good first step. But it is only a beginning. Build on those preliminary contacts by picking up the phone and inviting people to lunch or a drink after work. Turn your cyberspace communications into face-to-face relationships.
Get involved and stay involved.
Many people overlook significant opportunities to network through volunteer work. You can make meaningful contacts through a community service project, or by getting involved with a nonprofit organization. Believe it or not, nonprofits and other community groups often look for lawyers who can serve on boards and advise them about business and legal matters. Taking on these leadership roles is a great way to develop a positive reputation.
Get a mentor.
Mentors are an invaluable resource, not only for their wisdom in the law, but also for connecting you with others. Never underestimate the associations you can create through a mentor and the mentor's contacts. Make friendships with knowledgeable and experienced professionals, and then put in the effort and energy to foster a strong bond.
Getting back in touch with someone you've recently met can be even more important than the initial encounter. Not only does a follow-up card or email let a contact know you appreciated the time spent with you, it also keeps communication flowing. Staying on someone's radar is the best way to create an ongoing relationship.
Don't overdo it.
Networking is helpful to initiate connections, but it only goes so far, and being overbearing will backfire. You are, first and foremost, a lawyer. Be known as a knowledgeable attorney committed to obtaining the best results for your clients. If you build and maintain that reputation, opportunities to connect will inevitably follow.
When you build a connection with someone, the most crucial thing is to be genuine. When you have someone's attention, use it wisely: Be focused, ask good questions, maintain eye contact. Stay "in the moment," and let the person you're with know they are important to you.
Finally, enjoy the process. If social events are not your ticket, find something else that suits you better. A person who is not enjoying himself or herself is no fun to be around.
Many networking opportunities are available to you. So find them, pursue them, and flourish.
Kristin Rizzo is the founder of The Rizzo Law Firm in San Diego, where she represents employees in employment law matters.