You’re never too young to start formulating a list of useful business contacts, explains Jonathan Smith

Networking is a term that gets stretched and manipulated to cover an array of circumstances and one which fills many lawyers with utter dread.

It’s expected of us from such an early stage in our careers that it becomes ingrained, but it’s easy to lose sight of why we do it and what we are trying to achieve, particularly when you fear that you lack credibility due to your junior status. The purpose of networking is to build a base of relevant contacts who could be useful to you. It is important for junior lawyers to remember that networking is playing the long game. So, as a junior lawyer, how do you go about building your network?

Relevant contacts include clients and prospective clients, other professionals and third-party introducers, and even other lawyers. Clients are obviously useful: they pay our fees. The main fee-earner won’t always be available and may be happy for you to become that client’s go-to person while they pursue other things.

For prospective clients, your practice area will determine who may be useful to you. For example, a corporate lawyer might target accountants in the hope of referral work. However, don’t forget that each person you meet will have their own network of people. Even if they do not appear to be ‘useful’ on the face of it, they probably have a friend or colleague who might need your type of advice someday, so building a relationship is still helpful. Never dismiss someone on the grounds they won’t be sending you work immediately.

The perhaps not-so-obvious useful contact is other lawyers. Although they may be competitors, they still have their uses. Other lawyers can be a source of work in a conflict situation, and it’s useful to be able to meet someone for a coffee when considering a move to a new firm.

As a junior lawyer, eager to impress and demonstrate your commitment, it can be tempting to attend as many events as possible, but be picky and select events which are relevant to your client base, practice area, or sector specialism. Focus on quality rather than quantity.

Look out for events and functions that will be of interest to prospective clients, such as seminars and expos. It should be possible to obtain a list of exhibitors or speakers, and often the details of attendees, prior to the event. This will allow you to do your homework and decide which attendees to target. Knowing what the target does and their recent activities will allow you to strike up a meaningful conversation, which is far more effective than simply turning up and working the room.

Another good way to build your network is to attend or join the committee of a local junior professionals organisation, made up of a spectrum of professionals such as lawyers, accountants, independent financial advisers, surveyors, and others. It’s a great way to broaden your network, make useful contacts, and build referral relationships. Once you’ve established a relationship, you can then consider organising team-on-team networking between organisations. Of course, there are also junior lawyer forums, dinners, and events organised by the national and local JLD groups. These events are primarily attended by junior lawyers but often also draw attendance by other junior professionals. So, get out there, and start networking.

This article was first published by Solicitors Journal on 18 October 2016 and is reproduced by kind permission.