Networking is an artificial human social experiment. Put some well-dressed, well-educated, well-spoken people who don’t know each other in a closed room. Force them to interact.
I am of two minds about networking. Sometimes I return from an event all excited. Sometimes I return muttering, “awkward, awkward, awkward.”
Then I analyze the awkward, awkward, awkward times. I see that I rushed, trying to meet as many people as possible, not starting smooth conversations. I also felt like it was my job to fill the silence. After many of these situations, I have learned to relax at such events. Silence can be comfortable. More often than not, someone in the little circle starts a new conversation.
It is okay to go alone to a networking event and “work the room”. Walk in with confidence. If you see someone hanging out in the corner alone, go introduce yourself. If everyone seems to be standing in closed circles akin to a middle school playground, go grab some food or drink. Most often, someone will approach you.
At networking events, you obviously start each encounter with a handshake and your name. Don’t linger around these circles and second guess if you should nudge your way in. You are important when you join a conversation. Be bold. Introduce yourself. Have a tag line for how you describe what you do. “Hi, I’m Ceilidh. I am a family law practitioner.” The conversation will flow naturally into where you work, in what area of law, and where you articled or juniored.
Try to make connections and ask open-ended questions. Show that you are interested in the answer, e.g “How did you find articling in criminal law?” Listen intently, make and keep eye contact, and find connections with the person. Weave in ways to tell them about yourself, such as “I did a little bit of work in criminal law, but it wasn’t for me. So now I practise family law.”
I really enjoy connecting lawyers to other lawyers. I find it’s a great way to share your card without looking like a moron. If I know someone who I think this person would like and relate to, I would say, “My friend has started a criminal practice. Here’s my email address. (Hand over card) Send me an email, and I will put you two in touch.” If your converser gives you a card, take a moment to read it. Compliment something about it. Then, when you return to your office, send an email to provide the promised information. Say how nice it was for you to meet and refer to something you talked about.
One networking skill that I am still trying to master is the polite exit. When the conversation has exhausted itself don’t be afraid to smile and nod and say, “It was really nice talking to you.”
by Ceilidh Henderson, Advocacy Club Member
Ceilidh practises Family Law and Child Protection Law, in partnership with Altynay Teshebaeva. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.