You already know that networking is a must in the legal industry. Even in a work-from-home world, your connections are still crucial to your career growth.
Here’s the problem:
How do you keep networking when you and all the people with whom you want to connect are working out of home offices? It’s not like you’re going to bump into a colleague in your kitchen.
When you think about it, though, networking hasn’t actually gotten much harder.
Real networking has never happened by accident. You had to get out of the office and mingle with other professionals, and then you had to follow up with those connections to make them stick.
It’s the same thing now…except that you don’t always have to leave your (home) office to find networking opportunities.
Ready to get the most out of remote networking? Let’s talk about it.
Networking is still really important
Professional networking in the legal sector can yield all kinds of benefits.
Your connections pave the way for new job opportunities, professional development, knowledge sharing, mentorship, partnerships, and those ever-elusive referrals.
Perhaps more importantly, when you begin networking with other people who understand the pressures of your work life, it can foster a sense of community, encourage the exchange of ideas on health and wellness, and even help shape policy discussions.
Moreover, networking isn’t just about personal gain; it’s about giving too.
Networking allows you to build and nurture friendships, mentor those who are new to the profession, become involved in the myriad of ways legal professionals can give back to the community, and in turn, build a better world for those around you.
Today, it’s even more important to include digital networking in your strategy. There are more opportunities to connect with people who live outside of your local area, and those connections can lead to exciting opportunities. You’re no longer limited by commuting distance, and neither is your professional network.
The process of networking
Those things are all well and good in a theoretical sense, but what does the actual process of networking look like?
These days, it is more than just attending events or exchanging business cards.
Networking is a process that begins with intentionality and extends all the way to the follow-through.
The goal of networking is not just to make a connection, but to maintain and nurture it, to build a relationship that can potentially benefit you and the other person for years to come.
Effective networking begins with setting clear objectives.
You need to understand what you hope to achieve through networking. Are you looking for friends, professional growth, employment opportunities, potential collaborations, or a referral network? Once you have an end-game for your networking efforts, you can more clearly set out to find your people.
After deciding what type of people you want to meet, the next phase is making initial contact.
In a remote-work world, this obviously won’t happen like it used to – in stuffy hotel conference rooms with rubber-chicken lunches served by bored waitstaff.
Today, networking can occur in various contexts – online webinars, e-conferences, legal forums, or social media platforms like LinkedIn or Twitter. There are more ways to connect than ever before, but your follow-through is still vital.
Following up on virtual meetings with a personalized message helps turn a first contact into a meaningful connection.
It doesn’t take much – a simple thank you email or a direct message mentioning specific topics about the forum where you first met could set the foundation for a fruitful professional relationship.
Better yet, make an introduction to someone else they want to meet or otherwise help them achieve one of their networking goals.
It doesn’t end there, however.
In order to make your new connection an enduring one, ongoing nurturing is crucial. Regular check-ins, sharing relevant articles or resources, congratulating people on their achievements, or even just engaging with their posts on social media platforms are all effective ways of keeping the relationship warm, keeping your existence top-of-mind.
Remember, when it comes time for the people in your network to make a referral, recommend someone for a job, or even make further connections, you want them to think of you first.
Finding remote networking opportunities
Now that the world is working remotely, the old ways of networking simply aren’t enough. There are still plenty of in-person opportunities like legal conferences, lunch-and-learns, and good, ol’ fashioned networking happy hours.
However, those events can only connect you with other local legal professionals. You need opportunities to meet people outside of your city, and those connections are more likely to happen digitally.
Here are some of our favorite venues for building your new professional network virtually:
Legal conferences, both big and small, have long been a standard networking opportunity in our industry. Between the afterparties, networking sessions, and chance meetings, you always have plenty of chances to meet other interesting professionals.
Virtual conferences work a little differently.
Most virtual events offer dedicated networking opportunities, but chat rooms and video sessions just don’t feel the same as an in-person meet-and-greet.
Meeting digitally is different, so you need to update your networking strategy to match.
The biggest opportunity to connect with people is usually in the public chat during scheduled sessions.
Being active in the chat makes you visible. You’re also likely to get a callout from the speaker — remember, they can’t see their audience, so they really appreciate an active conversation in the chat — and their shout-out acts like an endorsement. Other attendees are much more likely to notice you in a positive way.
Towards the end of the session, drop a link to your LinkedIn profile or other website and invite people to connect with you. Be even more proactive by asking the speaker to share her or his link, too.
If you’re attending a digital event that allows people to create a profile with social media links, make sure you have yours filled out. Then, check the profiles of the people who engage in the chat with you. Send connection requests while they still remember who you are.
Online courses and webinars:
You don’t just have to watch the webinar, you know?
Approach a webinar the same way you would handle a session at a digital conference. Be the person who makes comments or asks questions to spark conversion. Once the conversation is going, you have the opportunity to invite people to connect with you on LinkedIn.
Some sessions include a networking portion, though these are often sparsely attended.
Legal forums and online communities:
They can also be great places to post sincere questions about your practice or the profession in order to encourage conversation. The key here is sincerity — if you post something you don’t care about just to farm responses, people will see through that. Don’t harm your online reputation with spammy posts.
Networking on forums is a drastically different strategy than traditional happy hour meetups. Instead of making the introduction, then following up to deepen that connection, you do the nurturing portion first.
Your goal is to actively participate in your chosen forum on a regular basis so that others begin to recognize you. Build your reputation as knowledgeable, helpful, and generally the kind of person that others want to know.
Once you’ve done that, you are in a position to reach out and form individual connections whenever the opportunity arises.
Social media platforms:
Love them or hate them, platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter (now X), and even Facebook host endless legal groups where professionals can exchange ideas, ask questions, seek advice, and make meaningful contacts.
Just like forums, networking on social media puts the relationship-building phase first.
This is true even when someone follows you or connects with you on a platform. Adding someone to your friends list does not actually make them your friend, and you’ve still got a lot of work to do to build rapport and nurture that connection.
One of the added bonuses of social media networking is that you can easily expand your network beyond your current acquaintances. Your comments on other peoples’ posts will appear to their network, so use that to your advantage by commenting frequently and thoughtfully.
The key here is to remember what your connections want.
They appreciate comments and interactions on their posts, but they don’t want you to use their posts as your self-promotion platform. If you’re going to comment, make sure you’re actually talking to the original poster and having a meaningful conversation.
Providing your time to a pro-bono organization is a great way to make connections with other legal professionals who care about the same issues that you do. And, like everything else these days, online pro-bono opportunities are easy to find.
As you volunteer your time and expertise, you’re likely to find other people who have similar passions and priorities.
That’s great for two big reasons:
First, because it’s easier to connect with people with whom you have something in common. You already have something to talk about, and there’s a sense of community already there.
Second, these connections can help move your career in a direction that’s meaningful to you. The more time you dedicate to causes you care about, the more opportunities you will have to do both paid and volunteer work in those areas.
For that reason, make sure you choose pro-bono opportunities that matter to you.
Leveraging Your Network
It takes a lot of work to build your network and solidify those connections. The whole point of all that effort is to get something out of it, right?
Think of your professional network as a garden.
No matter how carefully you planted those seeds and nurtured the sprouts, if you ignore them, all of your plants will die. You won’t get any kind of harvest from dead plants, just like you won’t get networking benefits from dead relationships.
You’ve probably heard all the standard advice — give congratulations, remember birthdays, post a lot on your social media — and you should definitely do all of that.
Just remember to harvest from time to time, too.
Ask for introductions:
If someone in your network is connected with a person or an organization you want to meet, don’t be shy about asking for an introduction.
They might ignore you. They might even turn you down, but it’s unlikely.
The most likely outcome is that you’ll get the introduction you want. From there, it’s up to you to form the new connection.
Ask for advice:
If you’ve chosen your network carefully, it can be a vast reservoir of collective wisdom.
Whether you need insight on a current legal matter, are looking for a new job, or are simply to socialize with other legal professionals in the real world, don’t hesitate to reach out to your connections. People love sharing their expertise.
Offer and request support:
You will ruin your network if you always take and never give. Networks are a two-way street.
Offer your assistance or expertise when you can. This not only strengthens the relationships you have within your network, but also paves the way for reciprocal support when you need it.
Remember that unsolicited advice isn’t always received as a gift. Use your judgment and only offer help if you’re pretty confident that it’s going to be helpful.
One of the best ways to offer help is to skip the advice and offer introductions.
Networking is hard, right?
Do your network a favor and help them meet each other. For example, when that paralegal you follow on LinkedIn mentions that they’d like to move into family law, tag your friend who’s a family law attorney and give them a quick recommendation.
At the end of the day, the true power of networking does not come from the quantity of connections, but from their quality. The process of growing a strong professional network is a marathon, not a sprint, so be patient, genuine, and helpful, and you will reap the benefits in the long run.