I frequently hear the following from lawyers:

“I detest them.”

“They stress me out.”

“I would rather poke my eyeballs out with needles.”

Yikes! What on earth are they talking about? What could be so unappealing? 

While holiday dinners with politics-obsessed relatives and being seated in the last row of a cross-country flight immediately spring to mind, what these attorneys are talking about is apparently even worse.

Attending large networking events.


The ICK Factor

You already know that networking is one of the very best ways to develop relationships that will drive business development. No matter how skilled a lawyer you are, no matter how good your work is, you are not likely to bring in clients without getting to know prospective clients, referral sources, and others in the legal industry and beyond.

But for many lawyers, no matter how friendly, there’s just something awkward and uncomfortable about walking into a room full of people you don’t know and trying to make small talk. 

Who do you talk to, especially if everyone is already deep in conversation?

How do you gracefully enter and exit conversations?

What do you talk about once you get past the weather and the horrible commute? 

If you’re one of those people who is less than enthusiastic walking into a room full of strangers, you are not alone! There are many things you can do to make networking events less unappealing but, for now, let’s focus on ways to strengthen your network without concentrating your efforts on large, impersonal networking events.

Implement one or more of the following 3 strategies to grow and nurture your network without ever setting foot in a large ballroom…


1. Become an Active Volunteer

One of the best ways I have found to meet people and grow my own network is to volunteer for committees and projects of non-profits such as bar associations, trade groups, and alumni organizations. 

When you get involved in a project or initiative for an organization, you are immediately exposed to the inside crowd or the “movers and shakers.” You will get to know these leaders almost effortlessly because you are thrown together to work on a matter of importance to the group.

Even better, when you roll up your sleeves and contribute to a common cause that everyone cares about, conversation flows easily because, unlike big networking events, you won’t be grasping at straws for topics to discuss or feel forced to ask awkward questions. 

Not only have I grown my network, but I’ve made good friends by helping to run fundraisers, organize special interest groups, put on educational programs, spearhead pilot programs, and participate as a board member and decision maker.

Choose at least one organization to join and then actively participate! Non-profits are always looking for volunteers, so consider bar associations, trade organizations where your prospective clients and referral sources congregate, and organizations that promote a worthy cause you are passionate about.


2. Reconnect with Dormant Contacts

Growing and nurturing your network is NOT just about meeting new people. It’s also about following up and staying in touch with those you already know. 

More than 15 years ago, just before I became a professional coach and launched The Lawyer’s Edge, I met Lisa, another aspiring coach, in our coaching certification program. I’ve never forgotten the critical networking lesson she (inadvertently) taught me.

Lisa was a serious networker. She went to networking events at least 3 evenings per week and made it her business to meet as many people as possible, handing out and collecting business cards like it was her mission in life. In fact, I once visited her office where she proudly showed me a shoe box filled to overflowing with business cards she had collected. I asked her how she managed to follow up with so many people and she cheerfully said “oh, I haven’t followed up with them yet – I’ll get to it eventually but I’m so busy with all these events!”

Failure to follow up with people you’ve met in the past or letting relationships you’ve already developed fall by the wayside is a missed opportunity. Your contact list most likely contains a gold mine of people with whom you can rekindle and strengthen existing ties.

Make a list of 5 people you’ve been out of touch with (list your favorites!) and send each of them an email simply saying that you’ve been thinking about them and would love to reconnect for coffee, lunch, or a call. Most people are delighted to be thought of and will respond favorably.

And if you’re thinking that it might be weird to reach out and that your contact will think less of you? Imagine how flattered and happy you would be to hear from them! 


3. Focus on One-to-One Meetings

If you’re like many attorneys, meeting with one or two people at a time feels a lot more energizing and palatable than trying to navigate a crowd. 

Meeting for lunch, coffee, or a video call allows you to concentrate your attention on one person at a time. You can give your lunch date your full attention and get to know him or her in a more meaningful way than the “bumper cars” method that tends to happen at large events. 

One of my clients, a young lawyer at a boutique firm, grew his business to nearly $1.5 MM in just a few years by focusing almost entirely on one-to-one meetings. While he occasionally goes to group events, he has found that the magic is in the follow-up and the relationships that are forged when he creates the opportunity to really get to know someone during lunch or a coffee date.

Set a goal to have a certain number of one-on-one meetings per month with those in your existing network and people you meet along the way. 


The Takeaway?

Hating networking events is no excuse for throwing in the towel and hiding in your office!

There are plenty of ways to meet people, grow your network and relationships without standing awkwardly in a crowded hotel ballroom wishing a hole would open up in the floor.

Commit to growing and nurturing your network in a way that makes sense for YOU.


Ready to become a rainmaker and grow your network? Or looking for a powerful way to support your women attorneys’ growth and development?

Become a member of the 2024 Ignite Women’s Business Development Accelerator or sponsor a woman at your firm to join the program!