This article is written by Ramanuj Mukherjee, Co-Founder, and CEO at iPleaders.
If there is one category of professionals who need to have a strong professional network, that is a lawyer. Not only for getting more work, but even getting work done that others find difficult to do is a function of who are the people you know and how well you know them. If you are in a job the importance of who you know may be still relatively low, but once you begin to practice on your own or start a law firm with some partners, being well connected is critical.
Even if you are a lawyer just doing a job, with no plans to start on your own in horizon, you should still invest in building a professional network. From landing the best jobs to getting brilliant speaking opportunities, your network can do wonders for you.
I don’t think I need to convince any lawyers that they should have a good professional network, so let’s dive right into how to go about building it.
There are two parts to creating a powerful network. The first part is to increase the number of interactions with the sort of people who should be in your network. The second part is to deepen the relationships so that you are not just a number saved on the phone and forgotten, or a business card lost in a drawer.
The first thing you must do, however, is not to go and create new relationships with strangers. That can work but is quite unnecessary. Most of the time, we know people we can help, and those who can help us, but never actually make the effort to know the other person.
Networking begins with you contributing to other people. You add value to the lives of other people – it can be in any way. It is not necessary that you add value as a lawyer, by giving a legal advice or a helping out when they are in a fix. You can help them out with anything, anything at all. Maybe you can help them out to get an introduction in the school where they want to send their kids! Maybe you can recommend them to a great yoga teacher or insurance broker when they are finding it difficult to find the right one. Maybe you help them to get a ticket to their favourite concert or take them out to the best coffee place that not everyone knows about yet.
The most well connected people are favour machines, helping out people on every turn without asking what is in it for them.
And then, when they need help themselves, they know who to ask. And most of the time, even before they ask, someone shows up to help or connect.
Even you want to be a very well connected guy, you must be the giver, who is not afraid to help someone who may or may not ever return the favour. Hence, you must be very resourceful. Good thing is that more you do this, more resourceful you become.
Remember, it is also a favour when you ask for a favour. You give another person an opportunity to contribute in your life. When you ask for help, you show that you trust that person. It is a gift. Don’t hesitate. However, be the guy who can give ten time more than what he asks for. Such people are rarely turned down and emerge as natural leaders.
Relationship building begins at home
Building a good network is not about knowing more and more people, but all about creating remarkable relationships by contributing to the people who come in contact with you. There are probably hundreds of people you already know who can use your expertise, benefit from your advise, suggest your name or refer someone to you, but unfortunately they do not even know what exactly you do or they don’t make the mental connection to realize that they should approach you for something in the first place.
Hence, you begin your journey of building an amazing professional network by connecting with the people you know the best.
Do your parents know what you do? Start there. Remember, Bill Gates would not be rich unless his mother knew someone at IBM which agreed to use Windows OS in their computers! Your parents know people and love to talk about you. Hence, keep your parents updated about what you do. It may sound crazy, but a mandatory first step. Sound out your parents on the kind of work you are doing and ask for their opinion. I was very scared initially to do this with my parents as I was they will not understand what exactly I do, and also because my father always gives me unwanted advice about how I should leave everything I am doing and start practicing in the Supreme Court. However, since then I explained to them exactly what I do. Guess what, my parents went and told all his friends about the kind of work I do, and how many people work at iPleaders, what kind of challenges I am facing etc. Since then, a few of those people have approached me asking for advice on various problems they are facing.
While others in your family, such as siblings, uncles, aunts and cousins may not broadcast about what you do, but they are your well wishers, and it is easy for them to recommend you. However, they know you as a family member and not as a lawyer. So it does not occur to them to recommend you. Hence, what works best is to call them up and let them know what kind of work you are doing, sharing photos of your new office, calling them up to ask about advice regarding how they would suggest that you expand your practice, sharing the articles you write and get published in the family whatsapp groups – just to ensure they know what you are upto in your professional life. First they are likely to approach you for their own work from time to time, usually as a favour, but if they like it – they are going to tell anyone else who may need your service that you are the one they should approach.
It goes without saying that this may work better if you are working as a matrimonial lawyer or a property lawyer and not so well if you are a securities lawyer. Accordingly, you should adjust your approach. However, make sure that your immediate family and people who care about you know what you do. They will suggest your name where they can, and being well connected is all about creating more chances in your favour.
Another mine of amazing professional relationships will be your school friends. Do you know where the people who went to school with work now? Do you know who they know? Everyone is a source of potential recommendations and references. Of course, you need to reconnect with them. You need to build credibility and goodwill with them. However, you already have a shared background, affinity and a connection with them. It is much better to build on that rather than creating fresh new relationships. You will where you need to create new ones, but to abandon people who you are already connected to is inexcusable for a master networker. You don’t leave people behind. Re-establish your connection with them, discover what they are doing now and help them out.
However, the most important people from your life who can help you out the best are the people you went to law school with. They are now all dealing with their own professional struggles, some are doing very well while others may not. All of them can potentially refer you clients, interns, juniors, secretaries who can improve your life, softwares that make your work easier, invite you to speak at conferences they are organizing and what not. However, they will do these things for you only if you take the first step probably, which usually means calling them up, staying in touch, talking to them about what they care about, and being a part of their journey. It’s the same with former colleagues.
It is easy to do a favour when people come and ask you. Before you become that person, for a while you must make the effort of discovering how you can contribute.
Events – organize, talk, attend
One great way to quickly building a fabulous network is to organize events. You can organize events, weekly, monthly or annual, under your own umbrella, or help someone else to organize. Everything works. You get to know the co-organizers. You get to know the speakers, who are usually difficult to approach otherwise.
You don’t have to necessarily organize huge events. The events can be small, held in a cafe (or a free/cheap venue) for 10 or 20 people who have an intimate roundtable discussion. Some of the best events in Delhi where I have met some high quality people were organized in small cafes in Hauz Khas Village or Shahpur Jat, in some quaint cafes like this and this.
I have also organized large budget events in placed like India International Centre in Delhi with guests flying in from across the country. If you have reached the scale and afford it, and see some clear benefit, go for a big event. There is no limit really, but I want you to keep in mind that small scale events where intimate discussions are possible and which happens at regular intervals are the best if you want to begin organizing events.
If you want to organize big events, begin by volunteering for some other big events in town. If nothing else, definitely attend some events. Meet people there with only one agenda, how can you contribute and add value to them. You must be always asking yourself, how can I add value to this person? What can I do that this person will be pleasantly surprised by, grateful for or simply delighted? What can I give? That’s all it takes to build great connections.
However, aim to speak in some of the events. Create a speaker profile and pitch to events expressing interest in delivering interesting talks on topics that will be relevant and highly interesting to them and their audience. If you have been helping to organize events check with them if you can give a talk. If nothing else, organize your own event, and call other speakers but reserve one spot for yourself.
If you meet a person and have a great conversation right there but never follow up later on, that is not another person added to your network, but a missed opportunity. You must follow up later on, connect with them over email or phone, and make plans to meet again. And yes, make a difference in their life. Do not assume you have added someone to your network until you have done at least 3 favours to them.
What should be a good conversation be like, when you are meeting people, strangers or even people you already know, with the intent of a powerful networker?
The first principle of networking is that if you like people, they will like you. If you don’t like them but you are just faking it, you are manipulating and it is unlikely to turn out well.
If you want people to respect you, then start by respecting them. Exude warmth and stay in high energy. People who are quiet, pensive, worried, tensed are unlikely to leave a great impression on people.
Yes, you should add value, but that does not mean you keep talking. The best conversationalists are those who listen actively. Take a deep interest in whatever the person in front of you have to say. Learn from them about what they care about. That is your key to their world. Get into their world and explore. People love to talk about themselves and what they care about. Listening, and caring about what they care about is a huge value add.
It is easy to drift away when you are talking to other people you don’t really care about and they talk about things you don’t care about. This is why networking is not about shaking hands with more and more people, but to learn how to be interested, genuinely, in other people.
Always look for what you can appreciate about them. Say it aloud in public, acknowledge people openly. However, make sure that the appreciation is heart felt. Feel it before you say it. Otherwise it is fake.
When you are the sought after person, who is being approached for advice, investment, opinion etc., it is a good idea to use a humility marker that equates you with the other person and breaks ice, putting the other person in ease. For instance, if someone approaches you for free advice, you could say “I need free advice from my friends all the time, so I guess I should give back sometimes.” This is much better than making the person feel that you are doing a big favour for him by giving free advice, which would not make him feel great about himself, and consequently not very good about you.
People never remember what you said about them, but always remember what you made them feel. So make people feel amazing, and your network will be growing in no time.
Write to people, message them, be in touch
Networking is hard work. It requires you regularly stay in touch with people. This means you should often get in touch with people by writing to them or simply call them. It is not possible to call everyone, but comparably quite easy to leave a message or drop an email. You need to be on top of their mind. Here are some ideas as to how you can do it, but you are free to come up your own ways too:
- Write to people if you like what they have written. If you read an article, and like it, immediately either email the writer or tweet your appreciation to them. End a mail with an open ended question so they feel the need to reply to it.
- Just read about someone you know who just got a promotion or shifted jobs? Call them up to congratulate. Say hi, and ask them how they are and how is life. Invite them to meet for coffee.
- Wish people on their birthday. Ask them how they are celebrating. If you can’t call at least message on whatsapp. They will feel special. Making people feel great is great value addition and top notch networking.
- Send out an amazing quote to all your whatsapp contacts. Chat with those who bother to reply.
- Share a positive review of someone’s most recent work. People love it.
There is no way you can build an amazing network that will set you up for life in a 6 months. Or a year. You need to do the write things over a long period of time, and do valuable work to create an amazing golden circle of high profile contacts. You have to earn your way one person at a time, one favour at a time. This is not meant for impatient people who are not ready to put in the time, effort or care.
However, those who do, find it to be exceptionally useful and profitable.
Increase the average that you are
There is a very famous quote, which is also very useful. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn said that we are the average of the 5 people we most interact with. If you are interested in being a better version of yourself, you have to increase the average. Interact with awesome people and the awesomeness will rub off on you. If you want to become a karate blackbelt hang out a lot with people who already have a blackbelt. If you want to get rich hang out with people who are already rich. If you want to be an amazing arguing counsel make sure you get to spend some time learning from great arguing counsels. If you want to be a great law firm administrator then seek out those who have done or doing a great job at it.
Yes, good people are busy and they don’t always have time to hang out with newbies. However, worthy people always find their way in. It’s a delight to share the art with people who are worthy of it. You need to become worthy unless you already are. That’s why networking is a long term pursuit that often requires you to transform yourself.
If you want to become the most well connected lawyer in town, you definitely need to work on all the outward activities that get you to meet people, shake hands with them, have great conversations, contribute in their lives etc., but it is in equal measure an inward journey to become the person who does so naturally, because he loves doing it and not because there is an agenda and ulterior motive behind all of it.