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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