As a trainee, it is easy to think that at this stage of your legal career there is no point to networking. About one month into my training contract, I got asked to attend a London Property Forum networking event with a colleague. It was held at the Hippodrome Casino. The event itself was great - bottomless champagne and free gambling, need I say more? The room was filled with mostly senior people from various companies and law firms. They all seemed to know each other. I suddenly felt intimidated standing there, champagne in hand and nobody to talk to, while everybody else seemed to be (a) in a senior position and (b) in a group talking as if they were all already friends.
I knew that if I stood in the corner of the room the entire night, the likelihood of me meeting people wouldn’t be high. I noticed there were some standing tables scattered throughout the room with nibbles, so I thought it would be a good idea to stand there, along with many others who were enjoying the food. This is where I met a couple of younger professionals. We ended up chatting away, and I got introduced to more professionals through them. Once I talked with one group, I kept meeting more people and having more interesting conversations. It was also great to get involved in the casino games with others, as it gave me an opportunity to connect and build a rapport with the professionals in the room.
What was the outcome of this networking event?
I was not expecting any outcome, but it’s always good to practice networking, as it can feel quite awkward at first. I ended up inviting the individuals I made a good connection with to the Howard Kennedy end of Summer Party. Only one young junior professional ended up showing up to our firm party. That one person brought a ‘buddy’; another junior professional from another company with him. I kept in touch with that ‘buddy’ after the party.
The head of my department was aware of the people I met at the Howard Kennedy Summer Party and asked me to approach him (the ‘buddy’) and arrange for a meeting as Howard Kennedy was dealing with a transaction in the very area this person worked in. Both us junior professionals introduced two senior people and facilitated that connection for business.
So I guess, yes, the networking event was successful. No, I did not bring the firm a £1 million pound deal, but I connected a surveying company with the head of our department so they could discuss potential business opportunities. This may or may not lead to something substantial, but this is the nature of networking. You meet people and perhaps you can connect with someone that brings you an opportunity.
What did I learn?
1. Have a glass of wine and just go for it. There is no point in being scared. Approach people, be friendly and force yourself to say hi. Talk to people at networking events the same way you would talk to someone you started a conversation with while waiting for the tube: polite and not intimidating.
2. Have real conversations. I hate it when people make sales pitches to me, so why would I do that to others? I asked them about themselves and then we usually quickly dived into conversations about random things. You want to have an enjoyable conversation, not a boring, nor a hustling one. Also, it’s more important to listen than to speak.
3. Gauge situations. You don’t want to be that annoying person that just hovers around and you don’t want to interrupt two people that are good friends and engaged in a proper conversation.
4. Bring business cards. There is no point having a great conversation with someone and not exchanging info. I had exchanged my cards with the people I shared a conversation with. And only after we somewhat wrapped up our conversation. When I got home, I wrote one word that would remind me of the conversation we shared on the back of every business card I got.
5. Get the list! I made sure to take the list of attendees. The following day I shared the list of attendees with my supervisor. Sure enough he knew almost everybody I had met and told me why these people are important to our firm.
6. Keep the ball rolling. I then wrote emails to those I shared a good conversation with. I also added them on LinkedIn.
So YES, trainees need to network!
You never know who the person you have bonded with is (or knows). The more people you know the better the connected you are. Building foundations now early on in your career is important and valuable, so just go for it and make those connections.