When it comes to networking events, there are two schools of thought. Some say that networking events are a waste of time. Others believe that it is important to go to networking events. I am a proponent of networking events. I do not hold this belief because I think that attending such events will necessarily help you land a client. Frankly, I do not know how that happens.
I do, however, think these events are helpful for young attorneys to make connections with other lawyers who may help them along the path to finding a job or developing and strengthening an area of expertise. To test out this theory, I attended my law school reunion last weekend.
What did I find out? I learned that many of my classmates are married, several had children, and at least three had dramatic makeovers. I also learned that law schools are apparently really keen on getting donations. Oh, and yes, I learned that attending law school reunions is a worthwhile way to network with other attorneys, provided that you follow a few simple steps.
While I believe that reunions are a good networking activity, I am a bit of a disaster when it comes to these events. So, I followed the lead of one of my former classmates who I knew would be a networking pro. And, since I had several pinot grigios that night, I literally followed her lead. Here is what my reunion stalking uncovered….
(1) Do your homework
The reunion was for the classes of 2006 – 1976 (in five year increments). Knowing this, my Networking Superstar researched the alumni directory prior to attending the event. She identified people from all of the classes with whom she wanted to speak, and she had relevant information to use to break the ice. She even managed to flatter the majority of attorneys who did not expect someone to have sought them out.
(2) Get at least 8 cards
I do not know if this is a hard and fast rule, but Networking Superstar got that many, and it seems like a nice, round number. As with dating, networking is really a numbers game. It is important to reach out to as many people as possible, and hope that at least one contact with lead somewhere.
(3) Follow up
While I did not witness this first hand (there had to be a limit to how creepy I was prepared to get, and following the Networking Superstar home would have crossed that boundary), it is essential to follow up with the people with whom you spoke within 48 hours. Remind them of who you are and what you discussed, and suggest getting together to talk more about _____ (said person’s career path, area of expertise, or whatever caused you to reach out to them in the first place).
(4) Have a solid elevator speech prepared
The first question everyone asked at the reunion was: “What are you doing now?” Unlike Networking Superstar, I had nothing prepared. At first, I was telling people that I was in San Francisco doing “random things” at a start-up company, which made it seem like I answered the phones, silk-screened the promotional t-shirts, and performed assorted janitorial duties. Yes, I sounded VERY impressive. Incidentally, by the night’s end I had learned my lesson and improved my speech (“I run a start-up”). The Networking Superstar, on the other hand, had crafted the perfect 30-second speech that said where started, where she was now, what she was working on, and what her future goals were. Delivering that speech made it so people wanted to talk to her, even if they did not know who she was (especially when combined with the research she had done prior to the reunion).
(5) Do not ask for anything, directly
I knew that the Networking Superstar was looking to switch jobs. Yet, she did not let that on during her conversations. It appeared as if all she was looking to do was get to know some older alums and expand her professional circle. While I am sure that the people with whom she spoke suspected her motives, she did not say anything directly. This was in stark contrast to some random man from the class of 1996 who asked me for a job (although he appeared to have had several pinot grigios himself). Bottom line: be subtle.
There may have been a few more lessons she had to teach, but the tour was cut short when she asked me why I was following her and I panicked and ran away. Sorry guys, but I think these five are a solid start.
If you have any other tips, email me. Or, if you plan on attending any networking events that are relevant to small firms (e.g., conferences for small-firm sections of bar associations) and want to go undercover for us, email me as well. And, if you are reading this, Superstar, sorry for the awkward end to the night….
When not writing about small law firms for Above the Law, Valerie Katz (not her real name) works at a small firm in Chicago. You can reach her by email at Valerie.L.Katz@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at @ValerieLKatz.