Just kidding – we’re not post-pandemic.
But in all seriousness, the last two years have dramatically changed the way in which we connect. But while some things may be different, other things will always remain the same.
One of my most popular posts this year was 5 Essential Networking Tips for Lawyers, so I thought I would update it for you to discuss what has changed and what has stayed the same, particularly as we head into the holiday season formerly filled with networking parties and now filled with additional lockdowns and questions about the future.
Have a Plan
Unless you’re new here, you’ve heard this from me before. Anything you do, whether it’s networking, business development, or marketing, should start with a plan. That’s going to be true whether there’s a pandemic happening or not.
Start with your goals and expectations – what do you want to achieve from your networking? Are you looking to expand your practice by 5 new clients? Would you like to do more work for the same clients? Are you trying to find new referral sources? Would you like to expand into a new area of the law?
Set some reasonable, measurable goals for yourself, and write these down. Then, create a strategy for achieving these goals. It may involve attending formal networking events (online or in-person), reaching out to friends and current clients in your network, getting to know some of your partners better, broadening your social media reach, etc.
Use these goals and strategies to develop your overall plan, which should be a written one that you can check in on quarterly – this will allow you to review what you’ve done over the past three months to advance your goals, as well as set up for the next quarter what activities you’d like to commit to.
It’s also helpful to have a plan for each of the activities that you pursue as well. For example, if you’re attending an event, whether its purpose is overtly networking or not, you may want to:
- Commit yourself to meeting five new people and getting their business cards; if it’s online, connect with them on LinkedIn instead.
- Review the attendee list in advance, if there is one, and research those people online to see who you’d like to get to know better.
- For networking events, reach out to the organizers to see how you can volunteer or assist – this also counts for virtual events.
- Write down one key fact about everyone you speak with, so that you have a reason to follow up.
- Commit to setting up five virtual or in-person meetings with the people that you’ve met within a week of the networking event.
As you work to execute your plan, consider having an accountability buddy. Is there a partner at your firm that you’re close to, or a mentor you’re working with, who can act as a sounding board for the goals and strategies you’re undertaking? Having someone to be accountable to can be a huge motivator for sticking to your plan.
Do your Research
Yep – this one is going to hold steady in the pandemic and post-pandemic world too.
In today’s hyperconnected world, there’s no excuse for not doing your research, and we all pretty much expect it these days. You’ve already checked out friends and potential dates online, so why not also look at potential clients and referral sources?
Social media gives you incredible research tools on your targets. When you have a plan, as you’ve created above, you have an idea of who your “audience” is and you can look up:
- The latest news stories about them.
- The experience and interests of their employees.
- The things the company really cares about (this is helpful to identify how you would approach a potential client).
All of this is key information for how YOU will be able to add value as a potential client’s lawyer, or when connecting with a possible referral source. This does take an investment of time, but the research is well worth it.
Add in an often-overlooked area of research too – when you’re connecting with someone from a different country or even a different state, do your cultural research. This can also hold true with someone coming from a specific industry. Familiarize yourself with language patterns, cultural norms, etc. that you may need to know in order to show respect and stand out from the crowd.
Hone Your Elevator Speech
Once again, this tip is holding strong for the pandemic era – and even more so than ever.
Because we all know our elevator speeches by now, but how effective is yours…really?
You know that it’s the 30 seconds or so that you get in which to describe what it is you do when someone asks you what your job is, like if you were to get in an elevator and only had as much time as it takes to get to your floor to explain your value.
Consider for a moment what your typical answer is once you have your law degree in hand – either “I’m a lawyer,” or “I’m a partner at X law firm.” Does that sound about right?
But, importantly, while your elevator speech is *technically* all about you, it should actually explain how you help to solve the problems of your potential clients, or when speaking with a referral source, how you may conversely help them. It tells people a) who your clients or potential clients are, b) what you can do to help them, and c) why that person should keep talking to you.
In my case, my elevator speech is something along the lines of “When a mid-sized firm doesn’t want to merge with a larger firm or open an office overseas, I help to connect those lawyers to other jurisdictions around the world so that they can refer their clients with confidence.” That not only explains what I do but opens the door for additional conversation and discussion.
These days, when you hop on a Zoom or Teams meeting, you know that saying “I’m a lawyer” really doesn’t cut it. And our attention spans are shorter than ever. So how are you effectively communicating what you do for your clients while networking virtually? Has virtually networking made you better at communicating the problems you solve for your clients when you network in person?
Social Media can Supercharge your Efforts
As you can probably guess, I’m a big fan of this tip, and it certainly holds up during the pandemic because you can make use of it without putting your health at risk. As we talked about last week, social media is another tool in your arsenal as part of your overall strategy that you can use. Whether you’re super confident with social media, or still thinking that it may be something that “the kids use,” social media can supercharge your networking efforts. Currently, we have the most generations in the workforce in history, and their use of social media varies widely. In the legal industry, while we do see a lot of usage of Facebook (a bit surprisingly), the majority of lawyers are still most comfortable on LinkedIn and, slightly less frequently, on Twitter. So, when you want to know more about in-house legal departments or a potential referral source, those are a fairly safe bet.
- Follow relevant hashtags on both sites to stay up to date on what’s happening in the areas of practice that you care about, current issues in your area of practice, and hot topics related to the companies you’re targeting.
- Follow companies on LinkedIn and Twitter to see their latest news and events. Create search columns on Twitter to see any time the company name is mentioned.
- Use LinkedIn to see who you may already be connected to within the organization, or where you may share a mutual connection that you can leverage. This can be especially helpful with potential referral relationships.
- Prior to a networking event, connect to key attendees on LinkedIn and Twitter, with a personalized note that explains why you’re reaching out. If you don’t have advanced access to an attendee list, follow up with everyone you met afterward by connecting on LinkedIn.
To really stand out, consider developing your own thought leadership pieces on topics of interest that you find these companies are interested in.
- As you’re following key contacts on Twitter and LinkedIn, see what they write about or share, and use that as a key thesis to add your own comments.
- When you share the piece (also on LinkedIn and Twitter), tag them and use the opportunity to introduce yourself.
- Observe what hashtags are being used with similar pieces and add those to your social shares.
- Engage in follow-up discussion in the comments and replies, and potentially use that discussion for additional content.
Engage fully in the platforms as well – in addition to engaging in conversations in response to your posts, share other posts of interest, particularly those within the areas that you’re concentrating on, and that may be of interest to the key contacts that you want to gain the attention of. On LinkedIn, identify 2-3 groups that you may benefit from participating in and ask and answer questions, post comments, and connect.
This is only a handful of ways you can use these platforms because I could spend days talking about them, but it’s a good start.
Networking Happens Everywhere
And finally, networking happens everywhere – this is still true, although we’re a bit more sheltered these days because of the pandemic, so you’ll have to be more intentional about your networking as a result.
For older generations, social media used to be something we could “check off” on our to-do list – it was separate from the projects that we did day to day, rather than an underlying piece of our full strategy. Networking can be a bit the same (even though it’s been around for much, much longer). You may think, “Oh, I have ‘networking’ on my plan for this month. I guess I’ll just cross that off because I don’t feel like going to an in-person event with COVID cases picking back up.”
But networking happens everywhere, all the time. At in-person events, yes, but also spending time with the parents of your children’s friends at sporting events. Standing in line at the coffee shop. Chatting about something you’re passionate about on Twitter.
Because of this, it doesn’t have to be a big scary thing – there are ways to network that can make it more enjoyable if it’s not high on your list of fun things to do.
- In-person events are returning in some cases, slowly but surely. Find local events that are centered around things you enjoy. Maybe your running club has picked back up because everyone is now vaccinated. Look into online book clubs, cooking classes, or potentially your local political party if you’re passionate about it. Check both the safety protocols and social distancing, and between your local paper and LinkedIn, you may be able to find a great combination of virtual and in-person events that will unite your passions with networking.
- Never eat alone – I’m an introvert, so this can be a challenge for me, but if you give yourself a goal of forcing yourself to meet with someone for a meal once or twice a week (or more!), this can be a great networking activity. Depending on your comfort level, you can do this in person, if you know your dining partner is vaccinated, or you can agree to connect virtually for lunch in your offices. Law school classmates, local alums, legal partners, current referral sources, people you’ve met at actual networking events, etc. Grow your group beyond the same people that you always dine with, and you’ll find your network expanding rapidly. If you’re struggling for new company, ask your friends to invite one new person each time you meet for a meal, whether online or off.
- If you’ve started to travel, consider adding an extra day to your trip for networking. Meet up with friends you haven’t seen in a while, reach out to your LinkedIn connections in that city, and develop potential referral connections for the future. Bear in mind any local restrictions for the pandemic, but even a nice walk in a local park is a good way to network with new people.
The pandemic may have added an extra layer of challenge to networking, but lawyers have never run away from a challenge. With some creativity and diligence, we can use some of our tried and true networking competence along with the skills we’ve developed in quarantine to find success.