BU Law Lecturer Richard H. Goldman offers advice on this important skill in a piece for the ABA Journal.
Networking is a skill that seems like a relic of the 20th century. In society today, we have social media, texting and videoconferencing. These do not substitute for the personal contact, attention and commitment necessary for building lasting relationships.
Ask any successful lawyer how he or she built a practice, and you’ll hear, “It’s all about relationships.” The success of a law firm depends on maintaining and expanding relationships with existing clients and attracting new ones. You can’t do that unless you’re engaging with people and genuinely committed to helping others.
As long as the compensation of partners is determined, in large part, by the amount of business he or she originates and controls, there is no more effective way to make people aware of you and what you do.
How Do You Network Effectively?
Networking is important for long-term success. The relationships you establish become lasting friendships, as well as produce business. It’s about building and managing relationships; immediate financial rewards are secondary.
In his book Give and Take, Adam Grant, a professor of management and psychology at the Wharton School, classifies people as Takers and Givers. “If you’re a taker you help others strategically when the benefits to you outweigh the personal costs … If you’re a giver at work you simply strive to be generous in sharing your time, energy, knowledge, skills, ideas and connections with other people who can benefit from them.”
Who Can You Help?
Be alert to opportunities every day. You never can tell when an opportunity will be presented.
For example, I’m a member of a private golf and tennis club. People join such clubs not only to enjoy the tennis, golf, swimming and dining, but also to expand their community of social and business relationships.
At the club I became friendly with a father and son who practice law together in their own firm. We decided to explore finding legal matters on which we could work jointly and be helpful to each other. They had a client with a complex international tax matter involving a significant amount of money. While they had an important relationship with the client, they did not have the international tax expertise to handle the matter. However, my firm had the experience, skill and depth to handle the situation. We worked together for about six years and achieved a very favorable result for the mutual client.
Interactions that can lead to new business relationships are not unusual, you just need to be aware of them. In speaking to new associates at my firm on the importance of bar association work, I often ask, “How many hours a week do you work?” I believe that, billable hours aside, you have to be aware of opportunities all the time.
Networking Opportunities: They’re Everywhere
If you’re interacting with people, you are networking. Just a few examples to keep in mind:
- Any breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, sporting event, or concert
- Large gatherings, such as cocktail parties or college, high school, or graduate school events produce opportunities to meet new people that can then be followed up by individual meetings
- School reunions and committees in support of your schools
- Bar association activities for local, state and the ABA
- Educational programs and seminars
- Community and religious organizations
- Other nonprofit activities