How In-House Counsel Can Maximize a Networking Event

Source: Corporate Counsel

Note: This article is a segment of "Career Counsel," a CorpCounsel.com column focused on career-development advice for in-house counsel.

To help in-house counsel get the most out of career networking events, I consulted Sonya Olds Som, my networker extraordinaire colleague at Major, Lindsey & Africa's Chicago office. The topic is always top of mind for her and I have to agree on its importance—better networking is always one of the first suggestions I have for any attorney's job search. By understanding a few best practices, career builders can make such events less daunting and more productive:

  • Expectations: One shouldn't walk into a networking event expecting to walk out with a job. These events are only as effective as you make them. The key is to prepare, before, during and after (see below). If done consistently and attentively, your efforts will get you closer to connecting with people who might just have that important lead.
  • Planning: Pick your events wisely. Networking events for lawyers can be a huge time-suck, so do some research as to which are worth your while. Choose an organization that has a good reputation. Have a good sense of why you’re going—your purpose, targets, what you want to accomplish. I prefer events with about 50-100 attendees so you can really work the room and mingle. For massive events, send an advance note to someone you haven't seen in a while and coordinate a meeting.
  • Social Media: Put yourself in front of your network by tweeting and/or posting to LinkedIn that you’re attending. This is another avenue to reach out to specific attendees and arrange to connect.
  • People: Find out who's attending and speaking. Know their backgrounds. Skim the list of sponsors and attendees and identify your focus. Set a goal to speak with select people. All the while, be open to meeting folks serendipitously.
  • Strategize: A lot of attorneys are introverted or risk-averse. We don't like rejection. (It’s the reason some of us go in-house, so we don't have to do business development anymore!) However, as Sonya says, "You're still in the business of you." So have that 20-second elevator pitch in your pocket and ready to deploy: "This is me, this is why I’m here, this is what I do." Approach people with a smile and good energy, and extend your hand. Remember why people are gathered at the event in the first place—to meet other people (and maybe learn a little about the topic at hand).
  • Be Friendly: This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to forget that these are social events. Be a good guest. Have interesting talking points on current events. Mention that you noticed their company just received an award, closed some big some deal, etc. Sometimes, bringing a wing man/woman can provide courage to get you through the door, but after that, you must separate and mingle. If all else fails, Sonya suggests smiling and looking pleasant. Make eye contact. Nod and say hello. Exude a positive and approachable disposition.
  • Follow Up: This is where the networking magic happens. After you make a great connection, send a note the next day. Let them know it was nice to meet them. Send a link to the article you discussed. Sonya says, "Give the give!" Before you leave the event, duck into somewhere discreet to email yourself a list of things you promised. Calendar how long you wait to follow up, and in what form. If you talked about having coffee or lunch, send an invite to schedule that soon after. LinkedIn is a fabulous tool for following up (which I’ll address in a future article). And on that note…
  • No Digital Devices: Don't check email during the event. Don't go on Facebook. Your online life will still be there after you’ve spent an hour or so paying full attention to your colleagues in the offline world.

Now that you're ready to maximize an event, here are some suggested resources for finding networking events:

Oh, and one last tip: Remember your business cards! Networking events run on them, so take full advantage of the opportunities by handing them out to those valuable new contacts.

See the full-feature article on Corporate Counsel, May 4, 2015.

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Jay KimJay Kim is a managing director with the San Francisco office of executive legal search firm Major, Lindsey & Africa. She focuses on in-house searches and has placed attorneys in both small private companies as well as Fortune 500 companies.

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