At the CMCP event on January 30, I had an interesting conversation with Earl Bentancourt from Myriad Litigation Solutions. Given that we were both attending an event that was designed to be about networking, Earl asked a relevant question. He said, “What is the biggest mistake lawyers make at networking events?”

My short answer was that lawyers attend an event once, talk to (or talk at) only a few people, leave without getting new business, and decide that the event was a waste of time. Some lawyers decide that the association that sponsored the event is probably also useless, and the other attendees had “nothing to offer.” Some lawyers vow never to return. These opinions reflect a number of faulty assumptions.

The first assumption is that the purpose of a networking event is to “get working.” Networking events are about meeting new people, and continuing to develop relationships with people you have met at prior events. Even CMCP’s Corporate Connections, with the ultimate goal of generating business over time, is not designed to provide work on the spot. The purpose is to make an introduction. It is then up to the attorney to invest time and effort into building a relationship with a potential client.

Another assumption is that we can evaluate people on the basis of one brief conversation. Given that we may only have a few minutes to talk to a new acquaintance, we aren’t likely to discover the richness of that person’s inner life, what motivates him or her, and how he or she is connected to various networks of people. Not everyone you meet will become a client, but many people can be a source of referrals, or may be willing to provide introductions to their contacts.

Let me clarify that the initial “brief conversation” is not an opportunity to sell yourself or provide endless details about your practice. As fascinating as that might be, most people don’t want to hear that level of information in a networking setting. Instead, consider networking events as an opportunity to hone your listening skills and focus on the other person. The 80/20 rule applies here: spend 80% of your time listening and only 20% talking.

If you are new to an association and haven’t attended multiple events, you won’t know whether the other attendees are regular members or are new themselves. You have to show up multiple times to form a sense of the community that exists in any association. In fact, I’ll suggest that until you become involved on a committee, you won’t really appreciate what the association and its members have to offer. To paraphrase John Lennon, the amount of benefit you receive is generally equal to the contribution you make.

Networking Suggestions

In addition to adjusting your assumptions about networking events, here are a few other suggestions for improving your experience of these events.

Make a plan for attending events.

If you are committed to building your business, you will want to create the largest network of contacts possible. Plan to meet at least two new people at every event. Over time, those people may also introduce you to their contacts.

Engage in conversations.

Even at a business-oriented event, most people won’t talk only about work. Be prepared to share your personal interests so that you find common ground with a new acquaintance. The more you know about your new contacts, the easier it will be to follow up with them.

Join an association.

Find an association that is meaningful to you and become an active member. CMCP is a perfect choice for any California attorney who is committed to diversity in the legal profession. The existing network continually expands to welcome new members, and there are many ways to contribute your time and talent.

Follow up.

Make a habit of following up with every new contact immediately after an event, and stay in touch regularly. It takes years to develop solid relationships. As I’ve said before, networking is about reciprocity. As often as possible, offer to introduce a new contact to members of your own network.

As always, I’m happy to answer any questions you have about business development.