One of my favorite things to say is that networking happens everywhere.
So what happens when your “everywhere” gets slimmed down during a pandemic, and even when you ARE out and about, your (hopefully) smiling, open and friendly face is hidden behind a mask?
I know how much lawyers (and burgeoning lawyers) love change, and how much change you’ve already embraced in 2020, but this is the year to throw out old systems, test new ideas and see what works and what you feel comfortable with. The GOOD news is that we’re not changing what has always been true about how you build your reputation and showcase the type of student and future lawyer you’re going to be – by doing strong work in the first place, and then through word of mouth. We’re in a people business, and that’s not going to change no matter how much technology we add into the mix. What IS going to change is the how.
So let’s think about networking for a moment and consider again my earlier comment about it happening everywhere, all the time.
Remember the days when we had networking events in person and your classes weren’t online? Sigh. I suspect even the most introverted of us misses those just a little (okay, not really). But networking happens elsewhere too – when spending time with your friends at a party. Standing in line at the coffee shop. At least…it used to. So now what?
It’s time to get creative!
BEFORE (and maybe again): Find local events or activities that are centered around things that you enjoy – running clubs, charities, cycling groups, book clubs, cooking classes, even your local political party if you’re passionate about it. Check your local paper to see what events may be happening in your town, look on LinkedIn for some groups that may have local opportunities, or join an organization that you can get involved with.
NOW: Look for these events happening online – the cool thing is that they don’t have to be local anymore, though I will suggest you also find local ones so that when things begin to open up again, you can take those relationships offline (that is still your goal in networking). This does take a little bit of work, but you can truly create wonderful relationships on the internet that can and do lead to connection! Look for the FB group for your favorite podcast or sign up for a virtual race that also has a weekly coaching call and accountability. Find a book club or a movie club that will hang out on Zoom afterwards to discuss the media selected, and maybe even invite action steps. I know we’re all tired of Zoom calls and engaging with each other through the screen, but if you set boundaries for the calls you’re required to do, and engage more in the ones with people you really enjoy, you’ll look forward to them more.
The goal here is both to create relationships with law firm leaders who may be looking to hire you, but also with business leaders who may be your clients in the future. While it may seem premature to develop business relationships before you’re in a position to bring business into a law firm, it’s never too early. Whether you’re connecting with future clients or a company that you may work for, you’re also gaining valuable intelligence about the business problems that these companies have that will make you a standout in class and to potential employers.
BEFORE (and maybe again): 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. Law school classmates, local undergrad alums, online relationships you’re trying to take offline, people you’ve met at actual networking events, etc. Grow your group beyond the same people that you always eat 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.
NOW: Again, I know we all have the Zoom fatigue, but explore some meal options for your video calls and get creative with this. This can be really fun, because you can connect or reconnect with people from all over the world that you wouldn’t get a chance to eat with in your own city unless they were traveling there. So check time zones and grab dinner and breakfast together, or trade recipes that you’re going to cook at the same time before sharing the meal. Host an afternoon coffee chat once a week and invite a different connection from LinkedIn to join you. It’s not the same as dining face to face, but you may find yourself connecting with new people or old friends in a fun way. If you’re meeting with people casually and want to expand your network, do ask them to invite a friend or classmate to join you – it’s easy enough to bring them into the call and connect, and it can benefit all of you!
BEFORE (and maybe again): Take online relationships offline – look at taking your Twitter and LinkedIn relationships to the next level. If you have been conversing online with someone who is local (or you’ll be traveling to their city at some point), offer to meet them for coffee or a meal. The online connection smooths the in-person meeting tremendously, and there’s truly no substitute for meeting face-to-face.
NOW: This seems like it would be impossible to translate in a pandemic…but, it’s not! Currently, you’re likely still engaging on these platforms in a general and surface level. So make the goal to deepen these connections – although you may not be able to meet face-to-face, or this person wouldn’t be someone that you’d consider having a socially-distanced coffee with, you can still get to know them better. Ask to have a phone call or a Zoom call with that person so that you learn more about them and their firm or company. This works particularly well with someone who has had a recent job change or announcement that you’ve seen, or posted an interesting article, because you have a point of reference. It also sets you apart from your peers, because most of them won’t be doing the same thing.
BEFORE (and maybe again): Add an extra day to your travel – when you have the opportunity to travel out of town, add an extra day on to the trip for networking. Meet up with local friends you haven’t seen in a while, reach out to those LinkedIn or Twitter connections you know in that city, or even send out a general social media request for whoever may like to connect while you’re in town. Reach out to some local law firms to set up meetings while you’re visiting – you’ll get the additional perspective on practicing law in another jurisdiction and develop potential referral connections for the future (or secondment opportunities if you’re interested in learning about practicing law there for an extended period!).
NOW: This one IS more challenging in a quarantined world, but not impossible. Do two things – make a list of the cities you would most like to visit, whether you have managed to travel there yet or not. Cross-check that list against contacts that you have in those cities who you may or may not have reached out to this year, and make a point of checking in with them with more than an email. LinkedIn can be especially helpful for this, because it breaks down geographical barriers in a way that you may not have realized. We may not be able to travel or travel far at the moment, but we can connect with our friends and former classmates around the world.
Secondly, take note of the practice area that you’re most passionate about and planning to pursue. Identify what is likely to be the list of the top three jurisdictions that you would expect to eventually see the most work to come in from and to send work to, and cross-check that list against your contacts to see who you may need to reach out to and connect with. Obviously, you’re not practicing yet, but again, it’s never too early to begin to develop relationships with people in those places, so that by the time you ARE ready to handle their work, you have a deeply established connection with them. Unless you’re already in regular contact with someone, they won’t consider you for work – not because you’re not a great lawyer, or wouldn’t be right for the matter, but because you’re not top of mind. Staying in regular contact ensures that you’ll be top of mind, whether you’re quarantined or face to face.
We may have the impression that we can sit back and not network because there’s a pandemic happening that prevents us from traveling and even being particularly engaged with each other out in public. But there’s a lot that we can do to translate our more traditional means of networking to a virtual landscape until we’re able to see each other again that will serve us well now and in the long run.