As you’re reading this post, I want you to think about whether you’d consider yourself to be a fairly good networker and business developer. What does “networking” mean to you? Do you think of it as a complete waste of time? If the answer to that last question is yes, keep reading, and I hope you’ll change your mind.

A quick story – if Steve Jobs had never met Steve Wozniak, the Apple I would not have been invented in 1976. A year later, this machine became the Apple II, the bestselling computer of all time. Steve Jobs had the vision, the ideas, but it was Wozniak who knew how to assemble teams. Their change meeting results in a multimillion dollar business. It is often the power of a chance meeting that sparks a revolution.

Sure, that sounds like a one-off, something that doesn’t apply in the legal industry. But it happens every day, and even in legal. How do busy lawyers get to these revolutionary opportunities? It’s about the difference between ordinary networking and power networking. 

Ordinary Networking

Does this scenario sound familiar? Let’s say you go to a networking event or a conference, and on the first evening, you’re at a reception. You walk in, and meet someone for the first time. You tell the person your name, the name of your firm and where you’re from, as well as your practice area specialty. You may even listen as they reply with the same information about themselves. Soon, you spot someone across the room that you know, and excuse yourself to another conversation.

That’s ordinary networking. And it’s fine – there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. It’s not harmful. You’re still getting to know people and sharing information. But it’s like drips in a bucket. You’re an incredibly busy lawyer, and the number of drips in a bucket that you have to make in order to fill up that bucket to make a difference is…extensive. It doesn’t make sense to waste your time with small, random acts of networking like this. What you want to be doing instead is “power networking.”

Power Networking

Power Networking usually results in three scenarios:

  1. You might meet someone who later introduces you to someone who has a profound impact on your practice.
  2. You might meet someone who has an extraordinary talent that adds life to a business idea (like Steve Jobs).
  3. You might meet someone who can help you win a big client, either directly or through a referral.

That sounds much more impactful, doesn’t it? So how can you be a power networker?

Putting Power Networking into Practice

First, a truth about networking – it’s not just something that happens when you plan for it. It’s happening all the time. Obviously, “power networking” takes a little more engagement and thought, but you’re generally networking constantly – chatting to someone on the elevator or a plane, talking to someone in line at the coffee shop, or other parents at your child’s sporting event. That’s all networking. You don’t know if the other person is the in-house counsel for your client or a potential client, or related to that person or another potential referral source. Networking happens everywhere, all the time, which is why you always want to be thinking about how you present your firm and your practice.

Tip One: Research

These days, there’s  no excuse not to research your potential targets. There is a ton of useful information online, both professional and personal. Let’s use your next conference as an example. Typically, you will receive a delegate list for a conference, either before or at the event. Even if it’s on the first day of the event, you can look through the list to narrow it down to five people that you want to meet during the conference. It seems like a lot, but it’s completely manageable. If you receive the list before the conference, in that prior week, connect to each of them on LinkedIn, review their profiles, look at their firm or company bios, etc. See if they’ve published anything recently, or what you may have in common. These are some talking points for when you meet.

You don’t have to be secretive about this research either – be upfront when you meet and say, “I looked you up on LinkedIn and saw…”

Before heading to the conference, reach out to arrange to meet. Most conferences are pretty hectic, so even with the best of intentions, it’s unlikely you’ll just run into each other unless you’ve pre-arranged a meeting time and place. Good opportunities include breakfast, coffee breaks, and lunches, since a lot of people will already have dinner plans lined up. Get those set up, and you’ll have your networking done in no time!

A bonus tip – meet two or three of your potential connections at the same time, and introduce them to each other, which will add additional value for THEM. This helps to show you as being a valuable connector, and also maximizes the time that you spend meeting each of the people you want to engage with.

Tip Two: Be a Go-Giver

Tip two comes from Branding Magazine, where they talk about being what’s called a “go-giver” rather than a “go-getting.” Power networkers aim to give so that they deserve to receive. Conversely, most people become defensive when they meet a go-getter. I think we can all agree with this – that’s that “sales-y” feeling that we all hate and want to avoid. So practically, what does it mean to be a go-giver?

  • Think of clients with operations in a fellow referral source’s jurisdiction, and make introductions.
  • Identify opportunities to co-pitch on work with other referral sources and fellow partners in your firm.
  • When presenting on a topic in or about another jurisdiction, reach out to potential or current clients and referral sources in that jurisdiction to include them.
  • Identify the top international areas in your firm, and introduce those partners to referral sources in other jurisdictions.

Why does this work? If everyone does it, you’re all naturally helping each other and building business opportunities. You’re also creating feelings within those relationships of loyalty and reciprocity. If you do me a favor, not only are you top of mind for me, but I’m also going to actively seek ways to help you. Imagine the business opportunities if everyone reading this post was constantly looking to GIVE referrals and introductions to their referral sources and colleagues?

So when going into a networking or business development opportunity, remember a few key tips to make your time most efficient:

  1. Aim to be helpful: While introductions are important, focus more on specific opportunities where you overlap, can work together, or can make introductions.
  2. Follow up: We have the best intentions to follow up after a networking event, but EVERYONE gets busy when they’re back in the office. Why not “follow up” right as you’re speaking with someone?
    1. Connect on LinkedIn if you’re not already, and together, look at your mutual connections and what that might mean for collaborative opportunities.
    2. Make an email introduction to a partner in your firm, or client or connection in each other’s cities – right from your mobile device.
    3. Invite each other to speak at an upcoming firm event.
    4. Confirm travel dates to visit each other and meet in your city – if you’re already in the same city, confirm a lunch or coffee meeting by putting it on your calendar before you leave the event.

What are some of your top tips for power networking? Share them in the comments and add to the discussion!