This article was originally published in The Barrister, the official monthly publication of the Camden County Bar Association for which DeMichele & DeMichele attorney MATT ROONEY serves as Young Lawyer Trustee.
By Matt Rooney
Millennials are part of what is arguably the most social generation in American history. We spend our non-working hours hanging out in wine bars and gastropubs, participating in charity 5k races and enjoying everything that revitalized downtown urban centers have to offer. We’re either doing things with people or tweeting about doing things with people, 24/7. So the art of networking should be second nature to us? Right?
Wrong. The funny thing about a hyper-social modern lifestyle is that it lends itself to superficiality and the illusion of substantive interconnectivity when, in reality, those relationships lack depth. We’re increasingly isolated. While many young employees laboring away in cubicles can get away it for a time, ambitious lawyers trying to build books of business can’t, and “likes” are still no replacement for connecting with a colleague in-person.
Here are a few exceedingly helpful tips to get you started:
- Don’t overthink it. We’re all networking for the same reasons: finding business referrals or securing new employment. Or maybe you’re just trying to keep your options open? No matter what you’re aiming to accomplish, never forget that the first step is building relationships. Everything else comes later. Maintain perspective and you will feel less pressured (and a lot less awkward) at the next networking event.
- Be yourself at all times and in all situations. Cliché but true. Listen: you made it this far in life; there must be something about you that’s worth getting to know! Fellow networkers are intuitive and they can sense insincerity. Remember: Step #1 is establishing the relationship. Masquerading as something you’re not is counterproductive.
- Be ready to explain what you do. I just told you to not overthink it, but my initial advice isn’t at odds with the ongoing need for preparation. That IS second nature to lawyers! Spend a little time thinking about the best way to articulate what you do; no one wants a CLE lecture on your chosen practice area at a happy hour; that being said, you should also be able to intelligently and confidently make the case for why you’re a valuable contact.
- Confidence is key. Puffing is counterproductive. Sell yourself but don’t make things up. You worked hard to get wherever you are. If you’re a hardworking and capable widget liability attorney, don’t be afraid to say it (in not so many words). Bragging is obviously not helpful and overselling yourself (e.g. misrepresenting your abilities) is more than borderline unethical; it’s a good way to spoil your reputation when you can’t deliver.
- Behave! It’s sad that this even needs to be said but, in a day and age when reality blends with digital reality, it’s worth remembering that you only get one reputation and you’re always one Facebook photo tag away from a big problem. Don’t blow it by attending a networking event and getting blitzed, aggressively hitting on everyone that moves or being a generally obnoxious jerk.
- Dress the part. This point goes hand-in-hand with #5. I’m not going to dress you. Use common sense!
- Listen more, talk less. Counterintuitive? Not at all. It’s the intersection of respect and strategy. People want to know you’re genuinely interested in them and whatever they’re all about. So listen – ask questions – if you want them to reciprocate and initiate a symbiotic relationship.
- Ask for favors. You’re at a networking event. Attendees presumably want to interact with you and, if possible, work with you. Asking for help or advice is a great way to begin to cement a new relationship.
- Buddy up with accomplished networkers. We all have friends and colleagues who know this list cold and live it. Find out where they go and tag along. Ask for introductions. Observe how they operate. Imitate.
10. Don’t neglect the “work” part of networking. We’re all busy.
Time is always at a premium for professionals who bill by the hour. Unfortunately, again, no one wants to refer a valued client to a LinkedIn profile or Twitter handle. We’re all looking for real people (social media is just a way to stay in touch with them). Get out there!
Need a push? Break the ice on your home turf and start networking now with the members of the Camden County Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Committee! Contact me at email@example.com, find us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/camdencountyyounglawyers), and follow us on Twitter via our handle: @CCYoungLawyers