Networking Quality Versus Quantity

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I remain somewhat dubious about the alleged importance of networking. A lot of gurus talk about how vital it is for your career to actively network in one form or another.

I am a little unclear as to what this means; does it mean that I go to get coffee with anybody that asks (including guys trying to sell me financial products)? Does it mean that I should join a networking group like BNI or a Chamber of Commerce? Does it mean going on informational interviews? Does it mean that I just go out to a happy hour and B.S. with people (Blind Date: Lawyer Edition)?


The lack of clarity on what “networking” actually is and which practices work and which practices don’t is frustrating. As someone who has put in more than a few workweeks worth of time doing “networking” (within its manifold meaning of the word), I’d like to share what I’ve found; stripped of its “RA-RA YAY NETWORKING” enthusiasm.

The Selfish Networker

Professionals network for a variety of reasons. Often it’s because a networker wants a new or better job. Small business owners do it because they want to grow their business. New attorneys, for example, might network to find a more experienced attorney that can show them the ropes every once in awhile. It’s good to know why you’re networking, but as Sam Glover points out, “(t)he harder you try to Network, the less well you are probably doing it.” In other words, the more you need or want from someone across the table from you, the less likely you are to get it.

Back when I was looking for work in law school and I would go to “informational interviews,” I now know that I reeked of desperation. Because I know how futile those meetings are now, I want to punch myself in the 2008 head and burn the dumb “J.D. Candidate” resumes that I brought with me. But I simply didn’t realize then what I do now: networking is like musky fishing. The bigger the fish you are trying to land, the more casts it will take.

Is it possible to land a job or get a lot of business by networking your ass off? Sure. The entire insurance sales industry is a testament to the fact that if you call or meet enough people, you will get business no matter what you’re selling. So it’s possible, but is that what you want to do with your time? If you are out meeting with seventy random people that can’t/won’t get you a job or refer you to someone that will, what do you have? You have the most tenuous network in the legal industry.

Network Connectivity

As Sam mentioned in his post, the best kind of networking isn’t really networking at all. When you have invested your time in meeting with people that you like or that have common interests, you have a network of individuals that care about helping you out. You have people that will answer an email asking for a reference or respond to a question about a legal question client issue you have.

The best networking meetings I’ve had were simple and easy and resulted in a good relationship with colleagues. I had good results from these meetings because they weren’t really like networking at all. We sat, we talked, we laughed, we cried a little. Point is, good meetings can actually be fun. What these valuable meetings do not consist of—you’ll notice—is angling for what “value” can be gained from the other person.

The initial value in networking is in the relationship itself. Once you’ve actually developed a rapport with a colleague or friend on a professional level, they might actually be willing to help you. But in my experience, if you are simply one in another long line of hungry job seekers or referral hounds, the odds of getting any instantaneous value from networking are minimal, unless you absolutely LIVE for getting coffee with a ton of complete strangers.

(photo: Shutterstock)

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  • Tyler, nice job. I’ve come to the realization that a majority of the people “networking” are really looking out for #1….and #1 is not you (or me). The term “networking” for a lot of people means “let’s meet and see if you’re interested in helping me out.” To network correctly and successfully, you have to prove that you’re in it to learn and or form a long standing relationship. Finding mentors or peers you can throw things off of should be the ultimate goal. As you mentioned, looking desperate within a networking group is typically not going to go well. Great points! Keep up the good work brother!

    • Tyler White

      Thanks Jesse, I’m glad to see that this message applies to the non-legal world equally well.

  • Amen. There’s nothing I hate more than people who network like they’re trying to make a hard sale.

  • I believe a past Lawyerist post said that networking is simply doing stuff, with people. That was a great article.

    However, that article did not have this gem: “…networking is like musky fishing. The bigger the fish you are trying to land, the more casts it will take.” I want that on a tattoo.

    • Here’s that post! I think Tyler and I are on exactly the same page when it comes to networking.

    • Tyler White

      DISCLAIMER: we cannot be held responsible for any bad tattoos acquired by our readership.

      • In case anyone is unfamiliar with this magnificent fish: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muskellunge

        • Tyler White

          Thanks Andy, I guess I just assumed that everyone knows what a musky is. I’m provincial like that.

        • Phew, I could sense the 1Ls converging on this post to criticize Tyler for misspelling “musty” or “musket” or something.

          • Andy Mergendahl

            When I lived in California, and the subject of fishing came up, I regaled the locals with muskie stories. I’m not sure they really believed how awe-inspiring they are: able to swallow a typical 1L in one bite.

          • Jennifer Gumbel

            I hear you can find them in Mississippi towns.

  • Jennifer Gumbel

    I completely agree. Networking isn’t meeting people in order to sell them something or get a job from them. Networking is going about your life and profession and doing things to let people know that if they run across a particular problem, you can help them out. For that reason, I’d rather be involved in activities that I enjoy to make connections and answer questions on attorney listserves than join networking groups. They might be helpful when you’re in a metro area practicing as one of a multitude (from what I gather from others… perhaps not), but they don’t seem so helpful when you’re one of a handful.

  • Yup, good article and good follow up posts. Referral sources won’t send you business just because you meet with them and/or buy them lunch. It’s a long term situation and you have to develop mutual trust. This is a great, simple statement by Tyler: the “initial value in networking is in the relationship itself”. A great reminder of that is the “Last Lecture” message from Randy Pauch

  • As a general rule, I absolutely endorse your take on networking. But in practice areas like criminal defense and PI, it absolutely is matter of high-quantity/low-involvement contacts. In fact, it would be kind of creepy (and a poor use of your biz dev time) to cultivate a few relationships in anticipation of those friends being accused of a crime or getting hurt in an accident.

    • I think you’ve got it all wrong. You just need to network with more wealthy criminals.

      • …and rich, reckless drunks and addicts.

  • Lisa

    Good analysis. I want to note that I also went on a couple of “informational interviews” in law school, and they were horrible experiences, most likely for the very reason you identify here: sprout-green me didn’t have anything to offer the “interviewee.” Surprisingly, a career counselor that I went to 2 years ago suggested cold-calling people who were in my chosen field and asking for 20-minute interviews… she tried to persuade me that there were SO MANY people out there that wanted to talk about their work… but she isn’t a lawyer and didn’t have a clue as to how lawyers think and act… anyway, I think as lawyers we have to come up with more ways to genuinely connect with other lawyers, and leave “networking” for life insurance salesmen.

  • Great article with great comments. I think the idea of networking is to build contacts who may someday need your services, but in the meantime give them something of value. My attitude as a tax and estate attorney is to provide my network with articles and guides and free insight whenever any other professional needs it. And to do so without a specific return or expectation. It is just part of my day. It does seem to work out although a lot of free time and information goes out to other professionals and prospects.
    Perhaps or at least for me is to have a method to give value and then build a network, so enough people know you, like you and trust you. And 30 years later you have a practice.

  • John Allison

    Networking really feels like dating to me. Do the things you love to do, meet people along the way and the next thing you know, you’re dating, er, networking.

    If you are desperate for work out a girlfriend, it shows. Focus on having fun and being yourself and the work will come.

    I remember working as a bouncer at a soup kitchen in Minneapolis while waiting for my bar results. I made great friends and found all kinds of work waiting for an advocate

  • Kathy Condon

    Smiling….I believe the essence of real networking is going someplace where you will learn something or have fun. You are bound to meet terrific people and who knows where it will lead in the future.

  • I think your last paragraphs sums up networking well. It is establishing and then developing MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL relationships. However it does take a few ‘coffees’ to create a network in the first place!