Think about the people in your circle. How can you help each other?
People often have a negative reaction to the concept of networking, but it doesn't have to be a cynical attempt to make false connections with people to extract some benefit from them. Instead, think of how it's supposed to work in practice and in the context of your broader life. At its core, life is all about building genuine relationships and connecting with real people over shared interests. Whether in your personal life or for your professional ambitions, mutually beneficial connections are key.
People like to help people (even more so if they consider them a friend). Focusing and strengthening your existing relationships and finding new ones will allow you to grow your network in a way that feels genuine, as opposed to solely transactional.
Your Personal Network in a Nutshell
Your personal network generally consists of three groups of people. First are the people you already know, regardless of whether or not you’re in frequent contact with them. This is your inner circle. The part of your network closest to you. Second, are the people you know of but don’t personally know. You haven’t met them or connected with them before. Generally, these are people you know by association, such as fellow undergrad or law school alumni, law firm alumni, or people who are members of the same professional or civic organization as you. These people are more likely to be receptive to any outreach from you because of your common connection. Third, are the people completely outside of your known circle of influence, the people you have no connection to. All three groups should be part of your networking strategy.
Who You Know
Whether you realize it or not, your existing network is probably quite large. It includes all of the people you know from childhood, undergrad and law school, your past jobs, your activities and hobbies, your past and present neighborhoods, parents at your kid’s school, your service providers (doctors, barbers, mechanics, etc.), people you see regularly at the gym, and people from every other aspect of your past and present life. Keeping in touch with or reaching out to this group of people will provide the warmest introductions to people in the second and third categories. Struggling on a particular assignment or trying to figure out how to utilize a value-add? Chances are you know someone that can either help or knows someone who can.
People You Know By Association
Your network also includes people you may not personally know yet but with whom you share an acknowledged association or commonality (alumni from your schools, members of your bar associations, members of your religious institution, etc.) Richard H. Goldman, senior counsel at Sullivan & Worcester, stated in a January 2019 ABA Journal article that he
“became friendly with a father and son who practice law together in their own firm… they had a client with a complex international tax matter… they did not have the international tax expertise to handle the matter. However, [his] firm had the experience, skill, and depth to handle the situation. We worked together for about six years and achieved a very favorable result for the mutual client.”
And it all started at a golf and tennis club.
When searching for a job, you should also take advantage of your schools’ alumni networks and directories. Many large law firms also have active alumni organizations. Use these resources to identify the people you want to meet. Realistically, any group of people you’re affiliated with could prove an excellent vehicle for networking, as most groups share common values or interests and are often willing to help each other. In fact, the number one way people find themselves at a new job is through an employee referral.
Once you’re in a networking mindset, it’s easier than you might expect to expand your existing network. Take advantage of every opportunity to meet and talk to new people—in line at the store, waiting at the DMV, attending a CLE program, etc. Join industry groups and professional associations and attend their meetings and events. You never know who you might meet and where the conversation might go. When you meet new people, ask questions about their career path, interests, and goals then see where they align with yours. If you meet someone with whom you connect particularly well, ask for that person’s business card and follow up with an email or an invitation for coffee or lunch.