Networking is about gaining a social edge. It’s about turning a first encounter with a stranger into a business relationship with a trusted acquaintance. Helen Morris shares her top tips on developing your own network.

Invest in yourself

Networking is about meeting and connecting with other people. It is important that people are able to remember you and what you do, and that you are able to communicate confidently with other people. Prepare a networking opening line which you can articulate well, which gives other people a clear understanding of what you do and why, for whom, and what makes you doing it special or different from others doing the same thing.

Be interesting

Brush up on the latest topics of discussion within the legal sector and generally. Have an opinion on everything, but keep an open mind. Before attending any networking event, think of some “ice-breakers”. Small talk is important to be able to establish trust, and realise that asking questions makes you a more interesting person as well as demonstrating an interest in your group. Equally be prepared to talk enthusiastically about your work and hobbies. Be proud of your achievements and be clear about what you hope to achieve.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

Individuals who attend networking events without any preparation and succeed are rare. Think about what you want to achieve from the event, which sort of people are likely to attend, and to whom you would particularly like to be introduced. Find out in advance as much as possible about the event - who is organising the event and if there are any sponsoring firms; who is on the guest list; are there any guest speakers and what are they likely to talk about; what is the history of the building where the event is being held.

First impressions

It is said that it takes only ten seconds to form a first impression of someone, so a smart confident appearance is essential. Enter the room calmly and make a mental note of who is present, choosing carefully who to talk to first. It may be easier to join a group of three people, rather than a duo who might already be engaged in a deep conversation. Judgement plays a key part in deciding whether to engage in a conversation with somebody who is on their own.

Meet people as people first

When meeting people for the first time, be authentic and genuine. Be more interested in listening to others than talking about yourself. Many successful networkers participate in conversations but never dominate. Instead their full attention will be on the person speaking, remembering details which can provide useful opening lines the next time they meet. Not always an easy skill to master, but it is one that is sure to win you friends – and ultimately business.

Network with a purpose

It’s all too easy to fall into people collecting mode. Networking isn’t about how many contacts you have, but rather the quality of the relationship you have with your contacts. A poor contact may know you by name or face, but knows very little else about you. A good contact will think of you when an opportunity arises, and may call you for advice on an informal basis. Ensure that you have meaningful relationships with all your contacts and don’t overextend yourself so as not to commit yourself to what you cannot do.

Identify the network spiders

Try to influence the people who influence many other people - the network spiders. These are the people who just seem to know everyone, and are useful contacts to have as they often connect people to other people.

Invest in your network

Building a network of contacts takes time, often requiring many years to nurture and mature. Reciprocity and trust is important. Don’t always ask people to help you or give you something every time you interact with them. It’s important to be helpful and to share resources and knowledge with one another. Uplift people in your network when they need it and they will do so back. See it as putting money in the bank for a rainy day. It’s about building up your network before you need it. Keep connected to people in your network. After an event, follow up contacts within 48 hours, ideally with a telephone call if an email is likely to get lost among the recipients hundreds of other emails. Warm up long cold contacts and consider existing networks such as university alumni, colleagues from law school and your local community.

Make time to meet new people each week

Life can get boring if you only interact with people who think just like you or cover the same topics. Be a renaissance, cross-disciplinary networker. Think outside the legal sector and learn from approaching the law from different perspectives. Try to talk to everyone you meet about something you’ve never spoken about before.

And finally

If the thought of networking still makes you cringe…: Ask a question at a meeting or a conference. For the price of being watched and listened to by the whole room for a short time, people will remember you for being an active listener who is confident enough to ask a question.

You can also become active in voluntary work, contribute to articles, or join a sport team. Engaging in activities outside of the legal sector, you will be working on your reputation which will soon be noticed. Stand out from the crowd, for example by wearing a bright tie, having an interesting handbag or shoes. But remember to only wear what you feel comfortable in – it takes a certain type of personality to wear a bow tie with confidence!