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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

November 12, 2019

What is the biggest mistake lawyers make in their approach to networking?

Julie Q. Brush

First, let me say that I’m not a big fan of the word “networking”. When I think of this word, it conjures up the image of a big convention center or other big room with lots of people meandering around staring at each other’s nametags. Nothing really happening, totally ineffective, a lot of after-meeting frustration. And the thought of it for most lawyers gives them a major headache. I’d like to call it something else like “relationship building” or “professional connecting”. Because that’s what effective networking really is.

Which leads me to the biggest mistake lawyers make in their approach to this much distained task: It is the erroneous belief about what “networking/professional connecting” is all about and what you should accomplish from it. The vast majority of lawyers think about it as the following: What can I get? How can this person help me? Can this person hire me as outside counsel? What can this person do for me? Who can this person introduce me to? Can this person get me a job?

Me. Me. Me. Me. Me.

In order to build the highest quality relationships (remember, that is the goal here), you have to stop thinking about you and start thinking about how you can help and add value to someone else. It requires a total paradigm shift in thinking.

If your approach embodies a genuine “how can I help?” value system, you will quickly find that trite conversations turn into more meaningful ones, following up becomes more fun, you’ll meet more interesting people and ultimately the process will be more fulfilling. Think about the last time you helped someone personally or professionally and they told you how much they appreciated you for it. Felt pretty good huh? That is an important feeling to have and cultivate throughout your career. And it’s an essential component to being successful and happy.

Of course, this isn’t a one-way street and I’m not advocating that you forget about…You in all of this. Your goals are important too – and not being afraid to ask for what you want is a key part of this dynamic. But you need to establish a solid foundation first and the best way to start is to initially put yourself at the back of the line. Like all other relationships, professional relationships have a give and take rhythm to them. And if you are connecting to other like-minded people, you too will benefit in a meaningful way. It’s a dynamic that has harmony to it. And it works.

This approach is a crucial first step, but it is only a springboard to building successful and satisfying professional relationships. There are many more factors to consider and skills to master. But by putting this best foot forward, you will be setting the stage for a rewarding experience…And no more Excedrin.

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Lass Evans, VP, Deputy General Counsel, Fortune 500 Company

Julie, you are spot on here. Unfortunately I don't think that many lawyers know how to navigate the networking waters with confidence. Your article is a helpful guide.

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