Posted by Charlotte Webb, Solicitor
A trainee’s guide to networking
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
Networking – I’ll be the first to admit that the word used to fill me with dread. For many people, going into a room full of strangers is daunting to say the least but there are many different types of networking: from the usual drinks and canapes to breakfast seminars to charity fundraising quizzes (my personal favourite, even though my only real contribution is the music round).
Strategic networking is an important part of business development and a vital part of a lawyer’s job. This can be making contacts externally or even getting to know your own colleagues. Ideally you would want to get a referral for the firm or a cross-referral but during your training contract a lot of it is getting your name out there and getting your face known.
Unfortunately, there isn’t some quick lesson that will magically make you better at networking; it is using a combination of different soft skills which will improve with time and experience. I’ve gone to a variety of networking events whilst being a trainee solicitor at Royds Withy King and I’ve learnt some practical tips and tricks along the way (thank you to my supervisors from my last 3 seats who have been very helpful!
There are plenty of networking opportunities as a trainee solicitor at Royds Withy King. You will be asked to help out at events but also to keep an eye out for anything else that comes up. Check fee-earner diaries and ask if you can go along to anything you’re interested in. You can make your own opportunities as well and the Law Society divisions’ local groups are a good place to start: http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/communities/. There is also a Young Professionals group in many towns and cities. Don’t be afraid to go to an event on your own!
Once you have the event in your diary, there are some simple things you can do beforehand to prepare:
- Get the list of attendees if possible. Pick out a handful of people you would be interested in speaking to.
- Research the hosts or attendees so you have some questions ready to ask.
- Set yourself a goal, such as making a new contact, rather than speaking to people you already know.
- Prepare a short introduction. You don’t want to sound rehearsed but it’s helpful to have a couple of things to say when you introduce yourself to someone new.
- Take your business cards and a pen and paper, just in case.
The Big Event
- Get there early. You can scope out the room and it’s easier to strike up a conversation with fewer people there.
- Try and organize a buddy if you can. This is someone you know already who can introduce you to others and vice versa, as well as being a saviour if the conversation is drying up.
- Find a group of 2 or 3 people to infiltrate. It’s much easier than trying to join in a conversation with a larger group.
- Don’t wait to be invited to the conversation but at the same time don’t interrupt.
- Ask open-ended questions to allow the conversation to flow.
- Maintain eye contact. Don’t look around the room for someone better to talk to.
- Don’t just talk about work! Try and find a common ground outside of work by asking for their opinion or about their interests.
- Be genuine. People will be alive to disingenuous schmoozing.
- Don’t feel like you have to talk to everyone in the room.
- Remember that you’re an ambassador for the firm.
- When finishing the conversation, share your contact details.
- Try and have fun!
This is the key part to get the maximum value from your attendance at a networking event. Try and engage with any contacts you have made after the event. And if you or the other person agreed to do something, make sure you follow this up with an email. You could also follow or connect with contacts on LinkedIn or Twitter so they remember your name and face.
Overall, my advice is just to get stuck in and give it a go. It’s not as bad as you think!
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