By Laura Cullison • April 05, 2010•Writers in Residence
March Goal: Networking Lunches
In January, my goal was to have a face-to-face conversation with every attorney in my practice group. There were some awkward moments, but I met my goal and realized that face-to-face interactions are really valuable, and that they don’t happen unless you intentionally make them happen.
In February, my goal was to attend a law school event and reconnect with my friends. I did that, but my post for Ms. J.D. was overtaken by events and instead I discussed personally dealing with some unexpected staff layoffs at our office, and recognizing that maintaining connections with colleagues who have been laid off is also a part of networking.
For March, my goal was to schedule one lunch a week with legal professionals outside my firm. My plan was simply to chat, connect, nurture the relationship, and see if there was anything I could do for the other person. First, I had to identify people I knew well enough to invite to lunch, and come up with a reason for the invite. I also wanted to pick people that I would enjoy being around. These lunches would definitely take me outside my comfort zone so I wanted to be able to, at least, not dread seeing the other person!
I thought about the following groups:
- Attorneys I had worked with, or opposed, in litigation.
- Legal professionals (e-discovery vendors, forensic accountants, etc.,) that I had worked with in litigation.
- Former associates that have moved in house or to other firms.
- Attorneys at public interest law organizations that I have worked with.
- Attorneys I know through bar association activities.
Out of that group, here are the four invites I came up with:
A Partner at Another Law Firm
I have been involved in a large scale regulatory investigation, and various individuals have separate counsel that we interact with. One particular partner at a different firm really impressed me with how he handled his client and interacted with all of us. At the end of a group meeting, I asked him if he might have time for lunch sometime. “I would be interested in talking with you about how you developed your client relationships and where you see the profession headed in the next couple years.” He had a very positive response, and we scheduled the lunch for the third week of March.
We had to reschedule the date a couple times due to conflicts for both of us, but it eventually worked out and this gentleman could not have been nicer. He chose the restaurant – an upscale steakhouse. He talked about his associate days, his mentors who helped him develop client relationships, and about how getting involved in a difficult pro bono case helped shape his career. He also talked about different bar activities within the ABA that might be helpful for me, particularly writing articles. He also insisted on paying for the meal. I made a note to myself to let him know when I have an article accepted for publication.
I emailed a former associate who now works in house, with whom I have maintained contact. I know she loves seeing IMAX movies so I asked whether she had seen the latest one, and, if not, suggested we do it together along with lunch. (This entailed a weekend commitment, which may not work for everyone) She emailed right back with a Yes! Let’s do it!
This was a purely social event and lots of fun. We caught up on all the gossip about other current/former associates, enjoyed the movie, ate at a nearby inexpensive Italian restaurant, and relaxed. We each paid our own expenses. We also agreed not to let so much time pass before we do it again.
A Contact through a Mutual Friend
This was a bit of luck, but I received an email from the leader of an expert forensic accounting practice. I have never worked with this particular person or group, but other people at the firm have done so. This person called me because a mutual friend (an executive I prepared for a deposition) had suggested that we meet. Normally I would probably have had a brief five minute telephone call and left it at that. But, because of my networking goal, when he suggested a face to face meeting, I agreed and proposed a date for a short (30 minute) lunch.
This lunch, I admit, made me nervous. A mutual friend had highly recommended this forensic accounting group leader as someone I would like, but still, I had never met the person. I emailed him the morning of the lunch to confirm that we would still be meeting, half-hoping something would come up for me or for him. No such luck. I chose a lunch spot with a buffet, close to work, so I would not get trapped. I googled him and read his company bio, just so I had an idea of his background. I was expecting some sort of sales pitch to encourage my firm to use his services.
Instead, when we met, we spent the first 15 minutes or so swapping stories about our mutual friend. Then he explained his background and identified other attorneys he had worked with in the city. He also talked about the hiring he was doing for his group and asked if I knew any potential candidates. Actually, I knew two forensic accountants who had been laid off, so I told him I would check and see. I didn’t want to give out their names without getting their approval first, but it was great to think that I might be able to give them a job lead. He suggested that anyone who would be interested in the openings could email him directly. He paid for the lunch. One of my friends was interested in the firm, and he will be going in for an interview in April!
I emailed an in house counsel that I had worked with on a case last year. He lives in another state, but I knew he would be in town in March for a conference and hoped we could get together. However, there was no response to my email suggesting we get together for lunch. I followed up with a call, which went to voicemail, but also did not get a response. I thought any more overtures would seem pushy, so I left it at that. But, I still needed one more lunch date. I emailed an e-discovery expert I have worked with in the past, to let her know that this great greasy spoon lunch place we used a lot during the busy days of a past case was closing in April. I suggested we have lunch again before it closed. She emailed me back and we set a date.
This was, to be honest, the least successful of my networking lunches. During lunch, this person complained about her company, complained about her clients, and complained about the lack of new business so far for 2010. She started off her order by saying “Well, I am glad you invited me because I sure can’t afford to be eating out these days!” Awkward. I think she enjoyed the opportunity to vent, but I do not plan to invite her to lunch again.
I still prefer to work through lunch, rather than take the time out for a meal with someone else, because I tend to have a lot of work on my plate. But, while my March networking goal did not change my lunch preferences, it did help me see that even a few lunches a month can help forge and nurture relationships. Who would have thought I could find out about job openings for forensic accountants by agreeing to meet a stranger for lunch? I don’t think I will ever be someone who does networking lunches every day of the week, but it’s nice to know I can (and should) do it occasionally, and enjoy it.