It is no secret that networking is a big part of an attorney’s job (it is for a legal recruiter too). Unfortunately, we cannot be in more than one place at any given time — and frankly, we all know that it will take too much time to win over every single person we encounter. This can make networking seem daunting.
Don’t stress. It helps to think of networking less as something you must “do” (like you would do your laundry) and more like something you cultivate — like a garden.
Pick your crop.
Just as the strength a network can be in its variety (we all know that person who always seems to know someone you should talk to about…anything), some gardens are great because of the variety they produce. Similarly, there are great gardens that focus on one cash crop — and strong networks that can be formed within a particular industry or practice area.
Beware of pesticides.
Using a product to ward off organisms you do do not want in your garden may yield unwelcome results. The next thing you know the pesticide has penetrated deep into your ecosystem and you don’t quite feel like eating those vegetables anymore. Being stingy with your business cards and only handing them off to one person who you want to impress while brushing off the person in that same conversation circle does more than just close off one contact. Be aware that brushing off one contact means that you might be shutting more doors than you intended. It is difficult for people to shake off bad impressions and the negative feelings as a result from how they were treated.
The hot trend in gardening is going organic. Networking is all about creating relationships — the best of which, like gardening, is organic. It is hard to be memorable in a positive way if you are insincere, aggressive, or impolite. Think about the positive conversations you remember. Generally, you won’t remember it because of a great credential or resume; you remember it because you genuinely connected with something about the person you met…and they usually weren’t trying too hard.
It takes time.
There is a Chinese parable that describes a man who wanted his rice crops to grow faster, and pulled on its shoots in hopes that the plant will be “pulled up” and sprout. The man woke up the next day only to find that his plants have all died. A network works in a similar way: if you pull on your contacts too early, fail to nourish your relationships, or simply just ignore your connections, you can’t reasonably expect a sustainable harvest. On the other hand, if you invest the time and effort in it early enough and consistently tend to it, you will reap what you have sown down the road.
Gardens may take time, but add great value, beauty, and pleasure to a property. A network, likewise, takes time — but it can pay dividends down the road in productivity, opportunity, and friendship.