I am making plans to attend several conferences and major bar association events for the remainder of the year. My primary goal for attending is to meet people who will provide job leads. But I also hope to meet potential clients, industry leaders, mentors, referral sources, and possibly a shopping companion. The problem is that attending these conferences can be expensive, especially if you are a solo practitioner paying with your own money. But I believe with proper planning, I can make the most of it without breaking the bank.
When I was a newbie lawyer, I dreaded going to conferences. This was because the costs of registration, travel, and lodging were high, and the lectures were boring, obscure, or both (which was mostly the case). I went only because everyone told me that I should introduce myself to the attendees, offer my services, and possibly get a job offer or referrals. So I went, tried my absolute best to stay awake and learn something, and gave my elevator speech and business card to everyone I met. I even paid extra for the dinner reception where I listened to the keynote speaker ramble on and on about her pro bono work. After I left, I sent everyone I met a follow up email and requested a meeting over coffee or lunch. Most ignored me. Others politely declined. And the few I met in person were genuinely good people but probably not going to help my career. After spending several thousand dollars with no immediate results, it can get discouraging and frustrating.
Now that I am more seasoned, I still dread going to conferences, but my approach has changed….
Before registering, I review the program in detail to see if there are people attending that I want to meet and if the lectures or panels cover any topics that I want to learn. Even if I am not interested in the subjects being taught at the conference, I will nevertheless go if it is being attended by potential referral sources or people who may provide job leads. If I am interested in meeting a certain speaker, I’ll introduce myself in advance and research her further so that we can have a more insightful conversation rather than just small talk. Also, I avoid paying the full registration fee whenever possible. I’ll contact the organizers and politely ask for any available discounts. Or I can offer to volunteer to help set up in exchange for free admission, as long as I am given adequate time and freedom to mingle.
When I attend and network, I no longer try to meet as many people as possible, nor do I treat everyone the same. I primarily want to meet people who can help me find a job or help my career goals. Otherwise, I will end the conversation as quickly and politely as possible and move on. While this may sound rude and self-serving, I remember that all of the attendees, like myself, are here to connect and spend time with the right people and not waste time being nice to the wrong people. While I always maintain a professional demeanor, I see no need for pointless banter. Typically, I leave the conference happy if I make a solid connection with at least two people. By “solid connection,” I mean making a good first impression with the other person, establishing rapport, and saying goodbye knowing that he or she will remember me in the future.
The next conference I will be attending will take place in a few weeks. Most of the panel speakers are well known in the industry. I have made phone calls and sent emails to some of the speakers in advance, and all of them were friendly and receptive. A few even gave me copies of their speeches and outlines and gave me some good leads and advice. I am really looking forward to meeting them in person, and I will talk more about this in a future post.
In preparation for my next post, I have made plans to return to my alma mater’s career services office to see if they can provide help and advice for their graduates from years past. But I would like to hear about readers’ experiences with their career services offices. The $160,000 question is, are they helpful to alumni? Please email me with your experiences.
Shannon Achimalbe was a former solo practitioner for five years before deciding to sell out and get back on the corporate ladder. Shannon can be reached at email@example.com.