Vol. 79, No. 11, November
Networking: Creating Crucial Connections
The connections you make with people can find you the job you want,
provide needed support, get you answers to important questions, bring
you business, and sustain you over the long haul. Here's what you need
to know to craft those crucial connections.
by Ellen Ostrow
In recent coaching conversations with lawyers, I've been asked the
following questions: "How might I find people with whom to do
Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D., is the founder of
LawyersLifeCoach LLC, providing personal and career coaching for
lawyers. She is editor of the free online newsletter Beyond the Billable
Hour. This article is excerpted from Issue
of the newsletter.
"I'd like to do work for 'ABC' client, but I don't know anyone there.
What can I do?"
"My firm invited a marketing consultant to do a presentation on
business development. The consultant told us to call two people every
day. I hate making cold calls and imposing on people. Is that really
what I have to do to bring in business?"
"Inviting people to lunch just to try to get their business feels so
sleazy. Aren't there any other options?"
"I sent in my resume to xxxx. I guess there's nothing more for me to
do now except just wait and see, right?"
Building and maintaining a network is yet another aspect of a
lawyer's life you won't learn about in law school. Some attorneys are
natural networkers: they're extroverted, make friends easily, and enjoy
helping and maintaining contact with people they like. However, many
lawyers don't quite understand why networking is important.
Effective networking is a crucial part of a career-management
strategy. The connections you make with people can find you the job you
want, provide needed support, get you answers to important questions,
bring you business, and sustain you over the long haul.
You probably network many times a day without realizing it - if
you've ever called a friend to recommend a good restaurant for a client
lunch or for a suggestion about childcare, you have networked.
Becoming more effective at networking is really just a matter of
having a clear picture of what you're trying to accomplish, planning
systematically, and using your strengths to accomplish your goals.
Here's what you need to know to craft crucial connections.
Networking is developing and maintaining mutually beneficial
relationships. In building your network, you establish and nurture
relationships for the purpose of exchanging knowledge, support,
recommendations, referrals, information, and introductions to
When you cultivate a networking relationship, you're focused on
understanding the other person's goals, needs, and interests. As you
learn more about an individual, you're thinking about the people you
know who might be able to help your new contact. As you learn new
information, you're thinking about people in your network who would
appreciate you informing them.
Networking is primarily about generosity and thoughtfulness. You
create relationships and sustain them unselfishly, at the same time
hoping for reciprocity. Odds are that if you've nurtured a relationship
with a colleague, he or she will be happy to provide you with the advice
or assistance you may one day need.
In short, networking relationships are "real" relationships, not
Know What Networking is Not
Networking is NOT about:
- Using people
- Intruding on people
- Shaking someone's hand at a meeting and not following up
- Collecting as many business cards as you can at a networking
- Being "phony" or insincere
Networking Accomplishes What Technical Competence Cannot
Networking is a crucial part of your job, not a trivial distraction
or a social luxury. Without connections, it's nearly impossible to get
Certainly, doing excellent work is essential. But without
connections, where will it get you? Visibility is necessary for
professional success. Networking enables you to make your strengths and
accomplishments visible to people in decision-making positions.
Networking is especially crucial in accomplishing the following
1) Career Changes and Job Searches. Networking is
the most effective way to learn about careers and get access to job
opportunities. If you're exploring career alternatives, your network
members will introduce you to people who will meet with you for
informational interviews. As you describe your interests to people in
your network, they're likely to come up with ideas that hadn't occurred
Furthermore, research consistently shows that roughly 80 percent of
jobs are found through networking. And before you accept an offer,
networking will provide you with the insider information you'll need to
make a good choice.
Even after you apply for a position, your networking activities can
influence the outcome. For example, a lawyer I was coaching hoped to
work for a particular nonprofit. After sending in her application, she
contacted a friend from law school who also did nonprofit work. The
friend happened to know the executive director of the organization to
which she was applying. All it took was a phone call from one colleague
to another for her application to go to the top of the pile.
Had my client maintained the relationship with her law school friend
in order to get this contact? Of course not. But over the years they'd
stayed in touch, supporting and advising one another along the way. So
when my client needed some help, she had someone who wanted to help
2) Professional Success. The fact that exclusion
from informal networks has been among the major obstacles to success for
women in law firms attests to the importance of networking.
To be successful within an organization, you'll need to have a good
relationship with a powerful advocate. As you develop connections within
your workplace, you'll learn whom not to cross, how to get great work,
and so on. You need to connect with people who can help you advance in
Having a knowledge network is essential for providing great client
service. There's simply too much information for any one person to know
everything on any given subject. If a client calls requesting
information you don't have, knowing who does have it is essential.
No matter how excellent your work, you're unlikely to live up to your
potential if you're not visible, both within and outside of your
workplace. Networking allows you to ensure that others are aware of your
abilities and achievements.
Networking is also essential to business development. As you network,
others become aware of your expertise. When they need someone to speak
on the subject, you'll come to mind. Business referrals most often come
from people you know - colleagues and former clients with whom you've
maintained ties and who can verify your integrity and competence.
3) Support. Lawyers face so many challenges that
it's difficult to imagine how you can overcome them all without a
support network. These crucial connections remind women lawyers
especially that you're not the only one who's trying to balance work and
life, or who is taken for the secretary when answering the phone.
How to Build Your Network
1) Begin with the People You Know. Make a list of
everyone you know and can recall having known. Think back to college,
law school, and prior employers. Include family, friends, neighbors, and
people with whom you volunteer, who you know through your children's
school, or who belong to your place of worship. Don't forget current and
Next to each name, list others that person may know. For example,
when a coaching client of mine was trying to connect with some people in
the entertainment industry, I put her in touch with a family member who
is friendly with a number of movie producers in Los Angeles.
2) Who Would You Like to Know? Let your goals guide
your networking efforts. Identify communities to which you'd like to
We've all heard the idea of "six degrees of separation." Consider the
likelihood that there are six people between you and any person you'd
like to meet. You probably know at least the first two links. You can
figure out the remaining links one at a time.
Suppose you're trying to find a position in environmental law. It
would make sense for you to attend local bar and specialty bar events
and try to become active on a committee in the environmental law section
of the bar. As you make connections, people in your network are likely
to introduce you to others who work in organizations looking for
environmental lawyers. As you develop relationships with new links,
you'll ultimately connect with people involved in hiring decisions.
3) Who Needs to Know About What You Offer? If you're
networking for business development purposes, you need to connect with
those you'd like to serve. There are many ways to provide others with
the information they need in order to hire you as their attorney.
First, know what meetings and conferences members of your target
market attend. When you participate in these meetings, people already in
your network can introduce you to new contacts.
Second, offer to make presentations to these groups. Your speeches
will make you visible and establish your credibility. More importantly,
your conversations with people after you speak allow you to build new
networking relationships. These relationships may lead you to new
4) What to Do When You Make New Contacts. Active
listening is your most important tool in establishing these new
relationships. Many people put pressure on themselves to say "the right
thing" when they meet someone new. Instead, let your genuine interest in
the other person lead you. Listen for what's most important to this
person and how you might help her.
It's useful to have a brief way of describing who you are and what
benefits you can provide. If you've prepared this in advance, you won't
have to come up with it in the moment. Don't try to sell yourself or
anything else. Be genuine. Hopefully, you're doing work you love, so you
can talk about it with authentic enthusiasm.
5) Follow Up. If you want the people you met to be a
part of your network, you'll need to follow up after the first meeting,
preferably within 48 hours. Send an email letting them know how much you
enjoyed meeting them and expressing your wish to talk further. Send the
article you promised you would.
6) Don't Allow Rejection Concerns to Stop You. Many
lawyers are concerned about imposing on others. Be sure to turn on your
social radar and pay attention to the reactions you're getting. It's
relatively rare to get a negative response when you're communicating
genuine interest and a desire to be helpful. But if you think you're
reading a negative response, don't make assumptions. Often people who
fear appearing "needy" will interpret a less-than-engaged response as a
brush-off. Remember that the other person probably has as much on her
plate as you do. Instead of worrying, ask her if there would be a better
time to connect.
Of course, occasionally you will experience rejection. When this
happens, make yourself list every alternative explanation for it other
than one that's your fault. Examples might include: they're too busy;
they've been pressured for business by lawyers before and are making an
incorrect assumption about you; or you caught them on a really bad
Maintaining Crucial Connections
Networks dissolve through neglect. Keep track of your networking
contacts. Some attorneys do this through contact management software.
Your contact-maintenance plan will vary depending on the nature of the
Whatever the frequency and nature of the communication (having lunch,
exchanging articles of interest, mailing newsletters, and so on), it's
important to keep in touch in a way that meets the needs of the other
Try to manage expectations and to be reliable. If you're often on the
road and have trouble scheduling lunches, it's best to inform your new
connection about this directly rather than to continually decline her
Of course, as with any other important relationship, do what you
say you will do. Don't promise more than you can deliver.
Although the "good old boys" network is a decreasingly effective
approach to business development, such networks continue to exist and
being excluded can be a frustrating and disheartening experience. If you
find this door closed, open another. Establishing women lawyers'
networks often provides an effective alternative as well as a haven for
women trying to make rain.
A Final Tip
Networking is one of those activities in which the journey can be as,
or more, rewarding, than the destination. Developing connections can be
one of the most satisfying aspects of your professional life. Try taking
the pressure off yourself, and just enjoy the relationships. You may be
surprised to find this strategy to be more effective.
And remember - the holiday season is a great time to reconnect with
your network, even if you haven't maintained it as well as you'd
planned. Consider how wonderful it feels when you receive cards with
personalized notes from people you haven't heard from in a while telling
you they were thinking of you or expressing appreciation for all you've
This is your chance to give that gift to others.