Law is a profession that attracts individuals who enjoy solitude (according to the ABA, as many as 60% of attorneys are introverts.) If you ask most lawyers how they feel about networking, you are likely to get a lukewarm response. Getting out and making small talk is simply not a high priority activity for a lot of attorneys. But as I’ve written on many occasions, leaving your office and meeting other professionals is the best way to advance your career, position yourself for future job opportunities and build your law practice.
For some introverts, going to networking functions or scheduling coffee with other professionals involves overcoming fear (fear of embarrassing yourself, fear of not knowing what to talk about, fear of wasting time that might be better spent on billable activities). Click here to read my prior post about getting past this fear.
I happen to be an extrovert and I do get energized by being around people; so networking is something I seek out. But even as an extrovert, I can still find it uncomfortable to walk into a room where I may not know anyone.
One thing I’ve been noticing a lot lately is how much easier it is to keep the conversation going when I find that I have something in common with the other individual. Sometimes that thing is professional (we do similar work, we have similar clients, etc.); but more often, the thing we have in common is more personal in nature.
Finding shared experiences, interests or beliefs makes the conversation flow. It increases our feeling of being connected to someone; and ultimately it increases the likelihood that we will like and trust that individual (and vice versa).
So when you are out at seminars, industry gatherings, holiday parties or just sitting with a law school classmate and having coffee, ask questions that help find out if you are members of any of the same “tribes”.
Fundamentally, as human beings, we are all tribal. We like to belong and we like to identify with groups that we belong to. While society has made great strides to break down the barriers of race, religion and other things that might separate us, shared heritage or experiences can be a great source of connection. Looking for these connections should be a conscious part of our efforts to build our professional networks.
Here is my list of common things that bind us to the same “tribe”. I welcome hearing from you if you have other suggestions:
- High School, College or Graduate School-school identity is a great source of connection for many of us. Find someone who went to your high school and suddenly you are transported back. Meet someone who graduated from your college and you immediately try to identify professors or classmates you know in common.
- Sports Fandom-Red Sox Nation (need I say more?)
- Where you live can create a strong sense of shared experience. I live in Newton, Massachusetts where there happen to be a lot of lawyers. When I meet a lawyer from Newton, we have lots to talk about (the recent mayoral election; the recent attempt to modify the city charter; all of the construction going on in the city–schools, etc.)
- Where you used to work. If you happen to have worked for a company that no longer exists, that can be a great source of connection. In Boston, for example, the law firm of Anderson & Kreiger is home to a number of lawyers who came from the law firm Palmer and Dodge which merged out of existence over a decade ago. The firm has hosted a number of alumni events for people who once worked for Palmer and Dodge. The events have been well attended because P&D was a place that many alumni have very fond memories about.
- Where you grew up. I’m an ex pat New Yorker (Great Neck). If I meet someone in Boston who is from Great Neck (or even Long Island), I always feel a sense of common experience (e.g. how we both escaped!)
- Sports you play or have played-my oldest son is a big ultimate Frisbee player. He even lives in an apartment that is called the Frisbee house. When he meets people who play or have played, they have instant kinship.
- Where you went to camp (or where your kids went to camp).
- Other interests you may share (musical tastes, politics, hobbies)
Religion and politics are great sources of “tribal connection” but for obvious reasons, these are topics that should mostly be avoided with strangers. However, if you can safely establish that you share a political belief with someone, that can become a very strong bond. Similarly, if you identify with the same religious group, those can be very strong connections. I have some great friends at my synagogue! Click here to read my post about that.
Note: Please contact me at email@example.com if you would like help figuring out what questions to ask when you out networking (i.e. questions that will help you find these common connections). I also plan to write about this in my next post. LinkedIn can be a great source of information if you know who you will be meeting.