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Network Now for Success Later

Today, the art of conversation has changed with the use of technology and our ability to text, instant message, or upload a story to Instagram. The idea of going to an event that requires some level of face-to-face networking is daunting—and a bit of a foreign concept to those of us who interact through our phones more than in person (i.e., us Millennials). It’s truly awkward and uncomfortable to walk up to a stranger and say hi, but to engage in a full conversation with someone more senior than you is scary and pushes us way outside our comfort zone.

Young associates, however, need to embrace the act of networking because the connections you make are the ones that will help you in your career in the long run. While you may feel like you have nothing to add to a conversation so early in your career, consider that the people you are meeting were once where you are now and have a plethora of knowledge they are more than willing to share with you. These new connections you will make are likely to become your mentors and sponsors, future clients or coworkers, and potential collaborators for writing and speaking engagements.

Make New Friends

To start networking, begin with baby steps and work within your comfort zone:

  • Look within your firm first. Chances are there are partners you don’t regularly interact with or members of other teams that you only smile at in passing. Attend firm functions where you have the opportunity to mingle with people outside of your team and immediate office. Because you work at the same firm, you will have common ground to talk about, which will make starting a conversation easier and ease you into the practice of networking.
  • Attend client events. Showing up to events hosted by your clients is a smart business decision. The more you interact with your clients, the more they get to know you and trust you, which will ideally lead to continued work in the future. Take the time to introduce yourself to the other employees and the other guests your client has invited. You are again starting with a bit of common ground that you can talk about since “how long have you worked with XYZ” can be a good icebreaker. If showing up alone to a client event feels too risky, take a buddy with you so you can work the room together.
  • Go back to law school for alumni events. Having gone to the same law school or even university for your undergraduate degree is always an easy topic of conversation. You can reminisce about past experiences from your time at that institution. You have shared an experience and that connection will make people more willing to help down the line—as long as you nurture that new contact.

The next step is to branch out and join associations and diversity groups. You don’t have to be in a specific diverse category to go to a diversity event, allies are often welcomed, too. Yes, it will be scary but you just have to go. It’s an interesting way to meet people, and people will want to talk to you because they are curious about your interest in the group or cause and your (possible) connection to that.

How to Navigate a Networking Event

Go into any networking situation with a rough game plan. There is no need to stay the entire time, but plan on staying at least an hour and talking to a set number of people—set yourself a goal. What do you want to get out of this event? Prepare your elevator pitch and have a few questions ready to ask that will start a conversation, whether about work or personal interests, so that you feel fully prepared. Follow these pointers when you arrive:

  • Arrive 10–15 minutes after registration time, not too early so people will be there already and you aren’t awkwardly standing around waiting.
  • Drop your bag, coat, etc., if possible, so that your hands are free and you can greet people appropriately when you meet them.
  • Keep some business cards with you at all times to hand out.
  • Dive in. Grab a drink and find somebody else who is on their own and approach them. There will always be people (who are probably as nervous as you) interested in starting a conversation. You have your questions ready, so just ask them! Remember you are all there for the same reason.

After the event, connect with the people you met on LinkedIn and start building a rapport with them. Send them a small note and initiate next steps with them, whether that’s simply staying in touch or engaging them on a project you want to work with them on in the future.

An Eye Toward the Future

At any stage of your career, you never know the direction your career path will take you, so building your connections will be paramount to your success. Having an internal champion in your firm will help you make internal moves into that sexy practice you are dying to join or act as your advocate when partnership comes up. If you decide to go in-house, often your first move will be at mid-level and through people you know or lawyers you have worked with on the other side. Or in the event you choose to leave law practice to explore teaching, banking, consulting, or recruiting, a network of people who know you and your work product will be helpful for you in making these types of moves and industry introductions.

Business is all about interacting with people no matter the business you are in. Push out of your comfort zone and start getting to know others in and out of the industry. The benefits will be endless.

Nathan Peart

Nathan Peart is a Managing Director at Major, Lindsey & Africa in the Associate Practice Group based in New York. An expert in cross-border relocation, Nathan works closely with associates to help them make lateral moves into law firms whether in New York City, on the East Coast or internationally.

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Filed Under: Business ManagementFeatured Stories

About the Author: Nathan Peart is a Managing Director at Major, Lindsey & Africa in the Associate Practice Group based in New York. An expert in cross-border relocation, Nathan works closely with associates to help them make lateral moves into law firms whether in New York City, on the East Coast or internationally.

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