The Lawyers' Path to Partnership: Networking

Posted on 8/2/2022 by Edward Sorrell

Why network?

Networking is an integral part of progressing in any career, whether you are a salesperson, an entrepreneur or a lawyer. This is because you’re looking for opportunities to learn, share and explore new ideas and also spot potential career and business opportunities.  

However, in the legal profession, networking is even more important. This is because not only are you looking to secure new business for your firm, but networking can also help you to secure new career opportunities on your path to partnership. Whether you have just finished law school and are learning the ways of the legal profession or a highly skilled senior associate fighting for that last promotion to partnership, regular networking is crucial to the success of your career in the legal industry. 

The power of networking 

“It’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know”. Whilst this saying is not 100% accurate it does hold merit. The interactions and the relationships with people around you, who these people are and what they are willing to do for you will determine how successful you will be. So, forming strong, positive, authentic relationships will undoubtedly help you to forge your career in law.  

If your ultimate goal is to become a partner, networking is going to be an essential tool on the path to partnership, and a skill that requires time to perfect so start now. Here’s an old proverb that might instil a bit of motivation to get you going 

“If not you then who, if not now then when.” 

How to network 

Preparation is key

  1. Figure out your 'why': before investing your time in a particular event or networking opportunity, understand why you are going. With a clear why everything else becomes a lot easier. Is there a particular person you want to impress; is there a new client you want to sign or even a new company you want to move to. Without knowing why you’re there it's impossible to prepare and the networking itself is usually either very dull or very nerve-racking as you feel so out of place. 
  2. Prepare some questions: You’re there to make meaningful connections and in the process, there will be some awkward silences. Have questions prepared so you can fall back on them. This is where the good old internet can help. Have you got someone you’re aiming to impress? If so, try to find something about them or a shared interest, this will allow you to speak naturally to them in a pressured environment. 
  3. Going alone? This might sound like the worst idea; you’d probably much rather be with friends or colleagues as they can help you through the experience and maybe offer some direction. On the one hand this can be good, but on the other, this can be dreadful. You tend to stick to what you know and might not end up networking at all. In contrast, going alone forces you into the deep end, gives you no constraint on who to approach and allows you to perfect your conversation without your colleagues looking over your shoulder. More often than not, with your colleagues there you end up talking to each other which negates the reason you are there 
  4. Positive self-talk: It can be easy to be scared in these situations, you know you won’t like it, you’re scared you’ll mess up, will run out of things to say, the list goes on. The key is to relax, go in with a positive mindset, focus on your why, think of those questions you prepared and practise your pitch. If you do mess up.... no one really cares; we've all been there and you’ll learn from it. The moment you think it will go dreadful; it usually does so stay positive. You’ve got this.  

An old quote from Marcus Aurelius for you to ponder before getting scared of networking “We all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinions than our own". You’ve got this! 

The Action 

1. Starting a conversation: Networking has a lot of unwritten rules and the hardest part of networking is undoubtedly knowing how and when you can enter and exit a conversation. Read other people's body language. 

  • With groups, look for the horseshoe-shaped groups of people. This formation shows they are open to new recruits for the conversation 
  • With pairs, look for the angles, if they are facing each other dead-on, now is not the time to join the chat. 
  • With individuals, it’s go time!  They're free, you’re free, just head on over and strike up a conversation. 

2. Conversation starters: whilst you may have prepared questions for your chosen ones there is no harm in being equipped with some other conversation starters, here are a few to get you going: 

  • Do you work in the industry? 

  • What firm do you work for? 

  • Have you been to these events before? 

  • Who are you here to hear from? 

  • What are you currently working on? 

3. Listen, talk, sell. In that order: No one wants to hear a sales pitch straight away at networking events, especially not in this country, and especially not lawyers. So, listen to what they have to say and ask as many questions as possible. The more information you can get from the other person, the more you can use to appeal to them. 

4. The more the merrier: try not to only focus on the high-profile people or just the one or two you wanted to target. Instead, get a feel for the wider room, you never know what you might find and if you get nothing from it at least you’ve practised. 

5. Forget rejection: if you do get rejected or things don’t go to plan, brush it off and keep going. See it as practice, learn why you weren’t successful and you never know what is around the corner. 

Partner level skills: 

Here are some tips and tricks that partners use to fully utilise networking; networking isn’t always about an immediate benefit and can come out of the blue at any moment so it’s best to be prepared. Often the best networking comes after helping others out and forming a deeper bond which can come in handy in the future. 

  1. Two-way street – it is not all about you and what you’ll find is that people are impressed when you know how to add value to them even if it doesn’t directly help you reach your current goals. In the long run, these deeper meaningful relationships will pay off. 
  2. Be approachable – it's easy to be scared to approach people and understand that people may be scared to approach you. Keep your phone out of sight and project your energy, look friendly and try to attract people’s attention Make eye contact, nod regularly and give them your undivided attention. Everyone here is nervous, so be the person to take the nerves away. 
  3. Trojan Horse – this is a technique many high-level lawyers will use. You may ask for something small or provide something you don’t really want to but it gets you onto the radar. For example, helping someone out on something that doesn’t benefit you directly or going out of your way to provide information when you didn’t need to. From then on, you can continue to impress and the relationship will blossom into long term success. 

The follow-up 

You’ve done all the hard work, you’ve got the other person’s details, you felt like it was a success and you are now on their radar. Don’t let yourself slip. You’ve only just met them and you haven’t earned their loyalty for life yet so make sure you stay in their mind. Follow up fairly soon after the event with a nice simple message expressing gratitude and including something personal, relevant and a call to action. And don’t forget to connect with them on LinkedIn! 

If they did ask you to do something for them, make sure you do it. That is your test and it is crucial you succeed because now the door has been opened a little. It is a lot harder to try to open it again if it has closed. So, make sure you don’t let anyone down after the event.

The Lawyers' path to partnership: Networking

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