Building and maintaining relationships is at the heart of success for any lawyer, whether you are an early career attorney or senior executive or partner. For early career attorneys, starting relationships with key influencers internally within your employer are key to gaining access to work on critical assignments. Likewise, making connections externally with prospective clients are essential to building a book of business if you want to eventually make partner.
It is estimated that 60% of lawyers are introverted, according to the ABA Journal, which means that networking is energetically draining for the majority of lawyers. Many lawyers of color often share that thriving in a law firm or in-house environment is extra taxing because of having to deal with feelings of daily discomfort. Combined with the fact that the majority of lawyers are introverted, networking can be even more burdensome.
We asked our advisory board (AB) members of the Next Gen Leadership: Advancing Lawyers of Color (NGL: ALC) to provide their thoughts on how to initiate a relationship that is critical for a lawyer’s advancement.
Check out the AB’s Top 5 Networking Tips Infographic
Do Your Research
Most of the AB members highlighted the need for doing research in two related ways: i) find a group on which to focus your networking; and ii) identify two or three individuals internally at your legal employer and within the group you’ve selected who would accelerate your advancement.
- Selecting your group — Find a group where there is at least one commonality between you and its members. Alumni groups from your law school, college, or previous employers are great options for consideration. Local bar associations and affinity groups within an industry are also natural alternatives worth considering.
- Identifying the individuals — Networking can feel like another job at times, and maintaining commitment, energy, and positive momentum can be arduous. To prioritize your efforts, begin by targeting a handful of individuals at first. To select your top prospects for building relationships to accelerate your career advancement, and do your research on each person.
If the individual works at a law firm, then reading the individual’s bio on the firm’s web site is a good place to start. If the person works outside of the law firm environment, search for the person on LinkedIn. Googling the person’s name is also a basic part of completing this important step.
Next, look for areas of commonality based on their background, such as attending the same law school or undergraduate institution, shared hobbies or passions, or social causes of interest. By finding their LinkedIn profile, you also can see mutual connections. If there are no joint areas of interest, find something in the person’s background or within their professional endeavors that piques your curiosity. Speaking and writing are common methods for increasing visibility for lawyers; and many times, it is pretty easy to find an article, webinar, or podcast that the individual has done or contributed to. Also, seek out others that know the person and ask them the best way to connect.
Understanding the topics that the person likes to discuss and the best method for outreach are excellent ways to leverage mutual connections.
Build a Plan and Reach Out to Initiate the Relationship
When reaching out to someone you do not know, planning is key. You need to think about what outreach channels you will use — email, LinkedIn, or attending an event where they will be. Using more than one communication channel is highly recommended. Email and LinkedIn are the easiest places to start; for example, you can send an email and then follow it up with an invitation to connect on LinkedIn.
Next, determine how you will introduce yourself. You need to be able to explain what you do succinctly and frame it from the perspective of your client’s problem. Check out this formula outlined in bill4time.com blog as part of the “How to Introduce Yourself” section.
Next, determine the content of the message by focusing critically on the first two or three sentences. A noteworthy and successful tactic is stating what you found most useful or compelling in an article, webinar, or podcast they contributed to, and then request some answers to a couple of follow-up questions. If you are reaching out via email or another messaging platform, you can suggest that you could chat on the phone via a “virtual coffee” or meet in person.
Showing up at an industry event they will be attending also is a great way to take the first step in connecting, and you can use the aforementioned tactics to make a connection. More specifically, introduce yourself and explain what you found most insightful from his or her contribution to the article, webinar, or podcast. Keep the conversation going by asking the follow-up questions related to the person’s contribution.
Make sure you have some additional questions outlined in advance to maximize the connection. NGL: ALC’s advisory board members’ favorite ice-breaker questions include:
- What are you working on right now?
- What led you to the legal profession?
- How did you come to developing an expertise in [insert the topic of mutual interest]?
- How did you select this niche area of expertise or practice area?
In the context of a live connection via phone or video, you can also use these ice-breaker questions to continue to expand the conversation even after the questions about the topic of mutual interest have been answered. Make sure that you don’t linger trying to keep the dialogue going for the sake of doing so. Be efficient in the conversation. If there are no further questions to be answered, finish up.
Close Out the Chat
When wrapping up the conversation efficiently and effectively when chatting live, it is important to honor the person’s time and keep to the allotted amount of time you have asked for. Before closing out the chat, one of our AB members advised creating a personal relationship versus a professional one by bringing “back a joke or something humorous that made us laugh” and remembering “something different about them that the general public does not already know. It makes you memorable to the other person.”
To conclude the chat, one AB member’s tip is to tell the person about an article or person that you think they would like to connect with as a follow up action within a specified time frame, including a suggestion to meet again. Another valuable way to finish a conversation, according to our AB, is to ask if it would be okay to connect live again to gain their advice about a professional short or long-term goal.
Indeed, people like to give advice, and if the goal is to have that person remember you, establishing multiple touch-points is helpful.