Happy Spring, in-house counsel friends! This is my favorite time of year when a young recruiter’s fancy turns to thoughts of non-stop travel to attend events and speak at conferences. I am in constant presentation mode these days. In fact, I made a great speech to a small, engaged group this morning. After an awkward pause, my family applauded politely and asked if they could eat their breakfasts now.
But, seriously, between the in-house counsel networking events that my firm Major, Lindsey & Africa hosts and co-hosts and the conferences for groups ranging from the National Bar Association to the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (I am writing this article en route to #CLOC2017 in Las Vegas right now – more on CLOC next month), it’s a busy and exciting season for me—and the worst nightmare for some of my in-house counsel friends, I know. And I understand. I do. First, you’re very busy with your work, your family, the important stuff in your life. You don’t have time to go to conferences and, indeed, one of the many reasons you chose to go in-house might well have been to avoid having to do business development and networking at a law firm. Second, like many attorneys, you may actually be a bit shy and introverted, preferring case files to cocktails. Being around lots of people can be overwhelming and draining, and you need quiet time.
I've recently learned that I am actually something called "an ambivert." While I enjoy spending time with other people, I also relish time alone to recharge. My work fits me to a tee because about half of the year I spend on the road being "on" at events and about half of the year I spend hunkered down in my office in my office being "off." And social media is a godsend because I can consistently remain in touch with a lot of people even during my "off season."
But spring is the "on" season for events (fall, too) and, if you've been reading my other articles, know me in person, or ever stood behind me in line at the grocery store, you know that I believe that attending at least a few pertinent, well-chosen events a year is essential for in-house counsel. Although you are not engaged in business development, you are (or should) always be engaged in the business of developing YOU.
Attending the right events on a regular basis gives you much needed insight into people and issues outside of your own company (and a fresh perspective on people and issues within your company). Speaking at events is even better: It gives you the opportunity to get to know your fellow panelists, learn from them and potentially make long-time friends or at least great professional contacts; you can establish/further develop your personal brand and solidify your position as an expert on a certain topic; you can help and inspire your audience, which is awesome from a karma standpoint; and, not for nothing, recruiters like me use these events for "talent scouting." I have "discovered" (and ultimately placed) more than one in-house counsel (including a GC or two) who I talked to at a conference— especially when I see them shine on panels—and I have stayed in touch with them thereafter via LinkedIn, occasional emails and calls, etc.
So, that's the WHY of attending conferences. For the HOW, I will turn to my all-time favorite musical Hamilton. I have seen Hamilton 5 times (as of this writing) in NYC and Chicago (Look, who's to say my kids will even WANT to go to college someday?), and I listen to the original Broadway cast recording almost every day (regardless of whether you can attend the show, listen to the album as often as you can— it will change your life!). Much of what you need to know in life can be gleaned from this show.
With eternal gratitude to Lin-Manuel Miranda and Hamilton's "Ten Duel Commandments," herewith are my "Ten Event Commandments":
Number 1: Grab a Friend. That's Your Second. One of the hardest things about attending an event can be making yourself attend (soooo many good excuses to bail!) and then actually walking into a big, crowded room where you fear you may not know anyone. That's where your second comes in. Use the buddy system to hold each other accountable for attending, then clasp hands Thelma & Louise style and drive off the cliff and into the party. Once you have gotten each other into the room, though, you can't stay with your second the whole time. You gotta say hi to some old friends and try to meet at least 3–5 new ones before you leave. Your second probably knows some people you don't and vice versa, so you can introduce each other. Divide and conquer.
Number 2: Alexander Hamilton. My Name Is Alexander Hamilton: I won't call it an elevator speech (I think we're all over that term), but you should be fluent in a relaxed, succinct, understandable presentation of who you are, what you do, and why you are attending the event. And have plenty of business cards on hand.
Number 3: Talk Less. Smile More: Aaron Burr is now the villain in our history, but this is still great advice. If part of your concern about attending an event is knowing what to say, take comfort in knowing that being an active listener, asking good questions, smiling and being really focused on what the other person says will never fail you. The more pleasant and engaged you are, the more people will think you are a terrific conversationalist, even if you mainly just smiled, nodded and asked questions — actually, ESPECIALLY then!
Number 4: The Room Where It Happens: It's not necessary to be in every room, at every event. It's important to be in "the room where it happens." And that means something different for different people. Plan which events are critical for what YOU want to achieve and will get YOU the best ROI. Plan who to meet and prepare for meeting them by obtaining the event registration list in advance if you can or at least know which sessions you want to attend and which speakers you want to try to meet afterwards. For big conferences, it can be helpful to send notes in advance (via email, LinkedIn, etc.) to try to make sure you don't miss connecting with those who you really want to see.
Number 5: Do Not Throw Away Your Shot: Do not throw away the golden opportunity that an event provides to introduce yourself to that superstar GC (or, ahem, recruiter) that you've always wanted to meet. This may be your best/only opportunity to make that important in-person connection. Don't worry about bothering them—that's what they signed up for! But within reason. Don't launch into your life story, hand over a resume, monopolize their time, etc. Be polite, complimentary, ask if they mind if you follow up with them after the event to talk more one on one, and what the best method and timing for reaching out would be. For me, what works best is if you email your resume and request for a call or meeting (reminding me of where we met and what we might have spoken about) and the Amazing Claudia (firstname.lastname@example.org) will try to schedule something as soon as possible. Take your shot. The worst thing that can happen will be, well, nothing. But the best thing could be a life-changing relationship or career opportunity.
Number 6: Look Around, Look Around at How Lucky We Are to Be Alive Right Now: Take a moment or two to soak in how great it is to be in such fabulous company. Your in-house counsel colleagues are extraordinary. YOU are extraordinary. Soak in the opportunity to be away from your desk. If you are a parent traveling to a conference overnight, don't be ashamed to enjoy the opportunity to watch what you want on TV, get a good night's sleep, and not have to cut up anyone else's food.
Number 7: In the Greatest City in the World! Whether you are traveling to NYC or some other city, try to find the opportunity to get “off campus' from the event and grab at least one local meal and see one local sight. Perhaps plan to meet up with a former colleague or classmate. This all a part of how the conference-going experience can be energizing and inspiring to you and provide you with fresh perspective.
Number 8: Say No to This: You don't have to talk to everyone present at an event. It’s a balance between quality and quantity. If you leave a large event having at least spoken in passing to 5–10 people—a combination of ones you already knew and planned in advance to see, new ones you targeted in advance to meet, and both new and old ones you were pleasantly surprised to encounter—you've done very well. Similarly, you don't have to go to or speak at every event just because you are invited. Be discerning and selective. I attend a lot of events but, listen, unlike you still-practicing lawyers, this IS my day job now—brand ambassador and talent scout. When I see some of y'all out at every event (and hear about you being at the ones that even I didn't make it to) and speaking on every panel, it starts to make me wonder when you have time to be a lawyer. You need to create and export your brand, nurture your network, absolutely, but all things in moderation, my friends. Besides, making yourself a little scarce builds allure, and people know that when they do see you out at an event, see you speaking on a topic, that you are truly engaged and passionate about that organization/issue. It creates a consistent, memorable impression of you in their minds. They know what to go to you for with jobs, boards, speaking and other opportunities if you are specific about doing things in areas you really want to be remembered for. Be careful not to dilute your individual brand so that it no longer has any unique meaning beyond ubiquity.
Number 9: Write Your Way Out: Before the event, don't be afraid to write social media posts expressing your excitement about participating and seeing others there. During the event, write a post or two about a panel or more that you enjoyed or about people you are glad to have seen again or met. After the event, write notes to those you saw, those you missed, those you promised to send an article to or make an intro for, write personalized LinkedIn connection requests referencing where you met, etc. But also consider writing a LinkedIn status update or short article about the event that you can self-publish. If you took some pictures at the event, include those (people are much more likely to click on posts that have pictures or videos). Events are only as good as the follow-up work that you do afterwards in furthering your brand and relationships.
Number 10: Take a Break. Run away for the summer. As I mentioned, while I enjoy event season, I equally enjoy the off season. Take the time to recharge and do the important off season planning, follow-up calls, emails, one-on-one meetings, writing, vacationing—and lawyering. Fall event season will be here before we know it. And if you're looking for a fun, off-season activity, I know a terrific musical you should try to go see.
This feature originally appeared on 'In the House,' May 22, 2017. "Real Talk" is a monthly column focusing on career-development issues for in-house counsel.