Making Work, WorkWomen in Law

Networking is a term that many people have an uneasy relationship with. Most of us want to seem enthusiastic and interested in the opportunity to schmooze with influential peers, but let’s be honest – for most of us, the idea of networking leaves us filled with a sense of dread. For lawyers, more comfortable in front of a screen than in a room full of strangers, networking is an essential business skill to master.

The problem lies in the idea we have of networking. The term has become somewhat tainted, but networking is still a valuable part of your personal development – and it doesn’t have to be an awkward bragging exchange. To truly gain value from networking, it’s important to think #humanfirst (like we do at Obelisk Support) – go in with genuine desire to learn, meet like-minded peers and be ready to talk about you, your life passions and goals. Here are some alternative networking tips from The Attic to help you learn to love the process…

Breaking the Ice – Introductions

Quite simply – don’t overthink it! A simple “Hello, I’m…” and smile goes a long way. If you are attending a talk or seminar as them what they thought of the discussion and take conversation from there. You don’t need to offload your career history; listen first: Ask them who they are, where they’ve travelled from, what brings them here and reciprocate with answers of your own.

Remember to say your full name! Why? Well first, so you can be distinguished from the two other Sophies in the room, and it also makes it more likely for people to commit your name to memory. When it comes to work talk, don’t just provide a job title and company name – briefly explain exactly what it is you do and why it interests you.

Don’t ‘Work the Room’ – Work With People

Aggressive and obviously strategic tactics to get around to everyone you might think is of influence are an immediate turn off. As always in life, authenticity is key. Don’t try to be something you are not or what you think people want you to be. Whatever level you are at, you are in the process of building yourself up – just like everyone else in that room, whatever level they are at. So be open and honest, and focus on the quality of connection, rather than quantity.l If you are worried about coming across as insincere or if it all still seems too contrived, listen to these anti-faking networking tips from Marie Folero:

– Networking is lifelong practice, see it as a regular habit not just a performance at an event

– Be totally present with each person you are speaking to, it’s not about getting around to the next person

– Be honest about your availability and don’t make promises you can’t keep

– If you have discussed follow up contact/further introductions, take action right away instead of waiting

Providing Value and Gaining Value

You need to ask yourself not just what you are looking for but what you can offer. As previously mentioned, you shouldn’t have to promise the world or pretend to be what you are not – just show yourself to be genuinely interested and motivated by your work. You want to hear about what interests and motivates people and their passions, rather than a list of achievements or a job title. Others will feel the same. This is the foundation of real connections in work and life – the mutual sharing of ideas and inspirations and telling the story of what led us to where we are today.

This TED event talk on active networking talks about how most of us have the wrong idea and approach to networking. He provides some tongue in cheek observations on how we make snap judgements based on appearance, and explains how we often overlook the real value of meeting people and getting to know them, no matter how much ‘relevance’ we think they might have.

Cement Those Connections

Of course, it’s all very well having great, energising conversations at an event, but what should you take away from that? If you feel you have more to learn from and/or teach a person, you need to make sure you establish follow up contact. So ask outright: ‘Where can I find out more about you and your company? ‘Do you use Twitter?’ ‘Can I send you an email with more information?’ Some people don’t hand out business cards anymore. They just connect with you on LinkedIn on the spot.

If you do use business cards (and nice stationery is memorable in many ways) don’t consign those business cards to an elastic band and a dusty drawer, as Mark E. Sackett says! Track and log the contacts you meet – use an online address book, or Outlook, and be sure to add notes of interest that you learned about them while talking to them. This will help to prompt you to include conversational points in your follow up emails, and keep the rapport going.

Where to Network – Offline and Online

There is the question of how useful large events created especially for networking really are. For example, this article on abovethelaw.com advises against them, saying “Instead, go to things that matter. Go to talks and seminars and presentations that are actually about something (besides “networking”).” It all goes back to the question of why you are there; if it’s not going to be of real value to you as an individual it’s not worth doing. The best events to go to are the things that genuinely interest and excite you – as that will ensure you bring the best version of yourself to the occasion. It could be better, then, to make a pledge to regularly attend industry relevant talks and speaking events where the opportunities to network are the side product, not the focus aim. Consider more informal soft skill focused groups – eg Toastmasters, which have a relaxed atmosphere to help build confidence and public speaking skills. Offering yourself up to speak at events is another way of creating more opportunities for networking, so it’s something to consider if you haven’t done it so far!

Remember you can also network online – social media used to be more commonly referred to as social networks after all, so it is time to take it back to basics. Check out our article on managing your presence on LinkedIn for online networking tips.

The bottom line is it’s not just about broadcasting yourself. Think of social media as an ongoing networking event – as intimidating as that sounds it doesn’t mean you have to be posting and messaging people all day long (those are habits that will very quickly get you muted/unfollowed anyway!). It simply means your social media are an open channel which you need to use regularly and interactively to discover and nurture relationships.

Finally, if you can’t find the right group or event for you – create your own!

Sometimes, things simply won’t happen unless you create the opportunity for yourself, so if you see a lack of events or online groups that fit your current situation – be that as a freelance lawyer, someone who is returning to work or is in the middle of a career change – it’s time to make it happen. With online platforms such as Meetup it’s easy to set up a small monthly lawyers breakfast/lunch group in your local area.

Get out there, relax and happy schmoozing!

Making Work, Work

With the billable hour and a culture that is still dominated by presenteeism, how can you progress in your legal career and succeed as a part time lawyer?

It’s a question that should be more and more urgently posed, as legal profession locks out so much talent due to incapability with changing lifestyles and family commitments. Far too many lawyers are still choosing to leave law altogether as there appears to be little alternative to the long hours demanded by firms. Dana Denis-Smith created the model of Obelisk Support in 2010 because she was staggered at the number of women leaving the profession when they started a family and how little employers did to stop them. In an interview on part time work in the Law Gazette, she identified that there is often a negative correlation between commitment and working part-time, though that is something not unique to law firms.

Thanks to those who are pushing for change in legal industry work culture, there are in-roads being made and it is possible to continue to build your experience and reputation as an ambitious legal professional on a part time basis. Portfolio careers, shared roles and reduced hours are becoming more common in the industry, and it is perfectly possible to succeed as a part time lawyer. Here’s how to approach it…

#1. Work Out a Mutually Beneficial Work Pattern

It is important to work out with your employers a part-time structure that works around both of your needs. You will need to have this conversation very early on in the process to get to a decision that best for both of you. For example, do you need to have shorter days, or would a shorter working week suit better? What days of the week will you be in office? Will you be doing the same hour slots every day or will you need to change between morning/afternoon hours on certain days? Take a look at your typically busiest contact times in the office and incorporate this into your new working pattern.

#2. Realise Your Value a Part-Time Lawyer

If you feel the need to apologise for your working hours, stop that immediately! Having confidence in the value of the hours you put in is key to making part-time work, work. Remember the amount of hours you work has been mutually agreed–they want to keep your talent, you want to keep progressing in your career while keeping balance in your life. The quality of work and character that you bring to your clients is what matters. Own your part-time lawyer career status and remind yourself of the reasons why you took the decision in the first place.

#3. Manage Expectations and Set Boundaries

One of the regular problems that may occur during the course of working part-time as a lawyer is the reluctance to speak up and say that you simply don’t have time for more work. As a part-time worker, you may feel because you work ‘less’ than a full-time colleague, it is your responsibility to pick up any extra tasks that need to be covered. It is better to be firm about the hours you work and say you simply won’t have time to do it within them, rather than over-promise and leave everyone scrambling to deal with the problem.

#4. Communicate Consistently

In the Law Gazette interview, Denis-Smith says the key to part time work ‘is to be very communicative, so those you work with know how you work and when you work and buy into that pattern.’ You will need to get used to reminding people of your hours and schedule, and setting out-of-office emails and voicemails, so people are not expecting to hear from you when you are not in the office.

#5. Increase your Efficiency

Having fewer hours to accomplish what you need to do makes you realise just how precious your time is, and can present great opportunities to overhaul the way you work. Making use of organisation apps and tools, eliminating unnecessary meetings, and approaching your work in a different way can make you a much more effective lawyer and can actually help propel you forward in your career. It is the perfect opportunity to get ahead of the curve with new developments and trends in legal technology!

Being a successful part-time lawyer, much like being a full-time lawyer, will not be a walk in the park and will come with its own challenges. But as more firms and legal consultancies offer more flexible working options to meet the demands of their employees, it will no longer be a straight choice between your career progression or a balanced life. Both can co-exist as long as the will to retain and nurture legal talent remains on both sides.