Making the Most of Networking Events

From all directions, you no doubt hear the advice that networking is a necessity for attorneys. You can build up your network of colleagues, establish yourself as the "go-to" attorney for a particular field of practice, meet potential clients, and find others to whom you can refer cases that are outside your specialty.

So you get the value of networking. Even with this information, many attorneys go to networking events and don't capitalize on the benefits they can offer. How can you make the most of these events?

Here are nine tips for transforming networking events into a business development tool.

  • Evaluate invitations. Practicing law is a time-consuming career, and finding time outside the office for things you really want to do is difficult on a good day. Save your precious time for events that will be the most effective for you. Before deciding which event to attend, determine the likelihood that clients, prospective clients and referral sources will be there.
  • Set a specific objective for each event. You might decide to reconnect with a former client, meet two in-house counsel, or conduct informal market research. Whatever your goal is, make it appropriate for the specific event and make it attainable.
  • Invite a client or prospect to attend the event with you. If they accept, it gives you ample time to connect with that person and strengthen that relationship. Even if they don't accept, it has given you a reason to contact them and stay on their radar.
  • Formulate a response to the inevitable, "What's new?" Not having an answer or saying "not much" is a sure way to slow down a conversation. Highlight something you want to promote about your practice, like an interesting matter you're working on, or your firm's recent merger.
  • Use your client-focused marketing message to respond to "What do you do?" Rather than telling someone you are a bond lawyer, which is unlikely to encourage conversation, try something like "I help nursing homes and hospitals raise cheap, long-term money," instead.
  • Arrive early. If you arrive as lunch is being served, you'll miss the best mingling time. If you're really pressed for time, show up during the reception, talk to a few people you don't know, and leave before lunch.
  • Don't stay with people you know, unless they are clients, potential clients or referral sources. As one of my clients said, "If I'm talking to Dan (one of her partners), we're both wasting our time." The whole point of attending the event is to meet new people. Get out there and meet someone new!
  • Prepare three topics to talk about if there's a lull in the conversation. Better still, think of three good questions you can ask people you meet.
  • Follow up with those you meet. What good does it do if you connect with all those people but don't stay in touch? Follow up with an article, an invitation to lunch or just a "nice to have met you" e-mail.