Preparing to Get the Most Out of Networking Events

Networking is an essential part of building your legal practice. Connections can happen anywhere, anytime, and you want to be prepared to build meaningful and lasting relationships. During WLG | at large '22, an annual virtual conference held by World Law Group, several of our member firm lawyers and professionals discussed the three stages of networking and relationship building, sharing practical tips on how to get the most out of in-person events. The concept of the session was born from professionals like Nanci Ship, Chief Legal Talent & Culture Officer at WLG member firm Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg (Québec, Canada), who moderated the session. She recognized that lawyers need networking development as COVID-19 has kept many of them on the sidelines at the beginning of their careers. Below is a summary of the key points panelists discussed.

What can you do to prepare for a networking event?

Preparing for events is the first and most vital part of networking. You want to create a valuable and rich network that can benefit you and your firm, and just showing up without prepping will prevent you from getting the most out of it. The first step is to identify events worth the time and money. Yohan Sauves, the Senior Director of Business Development and Strategy at Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg, says that when you are new to the field, you should strike a balance between seizing the opportunities that come your way and focusing your efforts on activities that align with areas and industries you want to be known for. After a while, your network structure will begin to take shape, and you will be able to pick and choose suitable events for you and your practice.

Once you have selected an event, Alex Gomez, a Partner at WLG member firm Hunton Andrews Kurth (Texas, U.S.A.), says it is crucial to study the list of attendees. If you are unfamiliar with most or all of the people, here are some ways you can prepare:

  • consult with a colleague or leader who may be more familiar with the list and can help you identify targets and talking points,
  • look up news articles related to an attendee and their firm, and/or
  • ask your Business Development department which attendees are already contacts of your firm and who may be a target.

He also advises that if you are attending the event with others from your firm, you should meet beforehand to strategize. Discuss which targets you each plan to speak with and exchange any information that should be shared with the contacts about the firm or each other.

The next step is to prepare your elevator pitch, which should cover three different aspects of your life and practice. The first is an introduction to who you are, where you work, and what you do. Then be ready to dive deeper into your practice, your firm, and yourself. Think of why you are an expert in your field and what value you, your colleagues, or your firm can bring to the table. If you reconnect with someone you already know, they will likely ask you what is new at your firm and inquire about updates to your life and practice. Sauves encourages people to make their answers meaningful but straightforward. You want the person you are talking with to remember what you said and be able to take the information back to their firm.

If you are new to your field or feel insecure when networking, identify a champion before the event. A champion is someone you are familiar with, either another partner from your firm or a colleague who is also attending. By sticking with your champion, you can more comfortably meet others and learn from their networking style. Clients can be the best champions as their introductions of you to others will serve as a personal endorsement. Once you have gained confidence, use the opportunities your champion has created to break away and have deeper conversations with the people you met. Remember that the less experienced you are in your field, the more likely you won't be seen as an expert, which is okay. Develop relationships now, and trust that they will pay off years down the road. As Gomez said, "be ready to play the long game."

How do you make a networking event successful once you are already there?

Preparing for a networking event helps to build a solid foundation and confidence, but now you need to put your skills to the test. Any interaction begins with a first impression, which does not start at the talking stage rather once you walk through the door. Most networking events have a dress code, and it will be evident if you have not adhered to it. If you are prepared and dressed for the occasion, you signal to others that you belong there and will feel more comfortable. Moira Huggard-Caine, Head of Institutional Relations and the Women's Task Force at WLG member firm TozziniFreire Advogados (Brazil), believes that while it is good to fit in, it does not hurt to stand out. Huggard-Caine suggests adding a pop of color to your wardrobe, making you stand out from a crowd "full of penguins" (i.e., in black and white), easy to locate, and hard to forget.

Now begins the conversational part of the networking process. Sauves advises that you pay attention to people's attitudes and nonverbal cues, especially their feet. If two people's feet are pointed at each other, and they are locked in a heated conversation, they probably do not want you to interject. Instead, look for people who are alone and seem unbusy or groups of people who are smiling and have not closed off their circle. Someone with their feet pointed away from the circle may be looking for an exit which could be your opportunity to enter or start a conversation with them. Your attitude and body language matter. If you appear friendly and open to talk, others will likely approach you and engage in conversation.

In addition to your body language, you should also be conscious of your physical location at an event. Choose whether you want to be in a high-traffic area where there are several people to talk to or go to a quieter place where you can find individuals hoping someone else will approach them. One easy yet unexpected place to network is in line for food or the bar. Picking the longest line will give you a captive audience and provide enough time for a substantial conversation.

"Networking is all about trust, empathy, and relationships," says Huggard-Caine. While you are there to promote yourself, you are also there to listen and connect with others. The conversation will go nowhere if you become too boastful about your practice or only discuss business. You have to be humble and, first, find common ground on a personal level. Ask about their family, hobbies, where they are from, etc. Everybody has different cultures, stories, and backgrounds to learn about. Gomez states that it is vital to "be yourself and be authentic," with the only exception being that you need to put yourself out there, even if it is uncomfortable. Do not underestimate anybody; you never know where a connection will take you and your career.

If you find it difficult to promote yourself while networking, try and be a champion for someone else. Huggard-Caine says that while it is a unique approach, it is her favorite because "helping younger and more inexperienced lawyers can be rewarding and still pay off in the long run." The people you champion will eventually grow into their own, and they will remember those who helped them along the way.

If you had a rough day or are not doing well at a networking event, call it a night to avoid leaving a negative impression. Do not be ashamed if you need to leave because, as Sauves says, continuing to push through is like "shooting yourself in the foot." That is not to say you should quit networking, however. Reflect on why the event did not go well and ask yourself some questions. Do you need to take more time to prepare before an event? Is it a matter of needing more experience and practice? Was the event I went to the right one for me and my business? There is no such thing as a failed networking experience because every event and interaction can teach you something about yourself.

What can you do to maintain the momentum after a networking event?

To maintain momentum after networking, you must pay attention during the event. Keep track of what people say about themselves and their work, and use that to reconnect. Gomez likes to call people he made a strong connection with and invite them to lunch or to participate in an interest the person mentioned, such as golf. Huggard-Caine will email people and drop in personal details she recalled, such as hoping their child passes an upcoming exam or sending them an article about a topic they discussed. You must use what you learned about the person to your advantage. When they receive several inquiries after an event, yours will stand out because it is personal and appeals to their interests.

LinkedIn is a valuable tool for reconnecting with people and repurposing the content you get from an event. While sending requests to connect is a good first step, take it further and post about the event, including pictures. Sauves emphasizes the importance of making the post personal and detailed. Do not just say that you attended an event, include a quote from the conference, your thoughts on a speaker, or mention the people you met. These personal touches make the post more engaging and encourage interaction from fellow attendees.

There will be times when someone you had hoped to talk with did not make it to the event, or you ran out of time before you could approach them. Huggard-Caine says you should still contact the person with a cold email. Mention that you had been looking forward to speaking with them, and offer a time to get coffee or have a call. Your efforts may not always be fruitful, but what matters is that you tried and took advantage of the opportunity.

Networking is an endless cycle of developing new contacts and nurturing old ones. The dos and don'ts of networking can seem daunting, but breaking up the networking process into preparing, engaging, and reconnecting helps divide the work into manageable phases. The more you give at networking events, the more you will receive. Whether you are a networking champion or a beginner about to go to your first event, there are always ways to grow and improve how you build meaningful relationships with others.


Alyssa Wing, Marketing & Communications Coordinator, World Law Group