So you want to attend that networking event at the local bar association but you’ve never done this before? Not to worry. Here are five tips to help you survive that first trek into networking.
- Take a buddy. I remember walking into my first San Diego County Bar Association meeting back in September 2006. I have a photo from that night, and even though I was already in my 30s, I still looked like a deer in the headlights. In hindsight, I was glad to have attended with a friend; another student and I found ourselves walking to the Bar event together, so, although we hadn’t planned it, we had each other as we walked into the room. I recommend taking along a law school or work colleague because having a buddy can really help; first, we talked between ourselves and then people started coming over to us, which brings me to my next tip.
- Arrive early to get a good spot. If you’re already in the room when other people arrive, they’ll come to you. They don’t want to stand around awkwardly any more than you do, so you’ll give them a place to go. Make eye contact. Smile. If you get to the event on the later side and have to enter a crowded room, it might be harder to break into the existing conversation circles. If there’s food, position yourself a few feet away from the end of the buffet, or near a popular food station. These areas have a bit more “turnover,” so people here are less likely already to be in a conversation with someone else.
- Begin with small talk. If you happen to meet an attorney whose work you’re familiar with, feel free to launch right in with an introduction like: “Hi, I’m Elizabeth. I’m a law student/new attorney. I was really impressed with how you handled the Dinkins case last spring.” If you don’t know anything about the person—as will most often be the case—it’s perfectly acceptable to start with something like: “This food is really good.” If you’re young (like I wasn’t), you can probably get away with a self-deprecating remark about being a starving law student (although I used that one a few times anyway). Comments about the weather and the city (especially if you’re a recent transplant) are also OK. For a follow-up, ask what kind of law the other person practices, what the advantages are of joining the local bar association (or whatever organization is hosting the event), or what kinds of resources they would recommend to a new lawyer (full disclosure: I discovered the value of CEB materials by asking this question).
- Have business cards and a pen. My law school had an arrangement with a local printer to provide us with nice cards, bearing the school’s crest, at a reasonable price. If you don’t have this option, you could buy sheets of perforated cards you run through your own printer. The self-printing option allows you to tailor the information for a specific event. I used to put a mini résumé on the back of my card, or list the areas of practice I wanted to learn more about. Don’t pack it too full, and don’t make it too glossy—you want some white space to write on. Which is why you’ll also want to have a pen handy.
- Collect business cards. After chatting for a few moments, ask: “Do you have a business card?” Most people will, but if they don’t, you’ll have yours. And yours will have blank space where you can write their contact info. And then don’t forget to follow-up. If you had only a brief encounter, an email the next day is a suitable way to keep that connection going. If you spent half the evening talking with just one or two people, handwritten cards thanking them for their time will go a long way to cement you into their brains—and them into yours!