Get out there!

By Julie Sobowale July - August 2013

Whether you’re meeting face-to-face or chatting online, networking helps build connections and develop new business...

Get out there!

Illustration by Thomas Dannenberg

You’re standing in a room full of people at a cocktail event. This is your chance to meet new people and network. What do you do? Give business cards to everyone or chat with a few senior partners?

These decisions eventually get easier as you develop networking skills throughout your career. But one thing doesn’t change: From law school to partnership, your networking ability is your ticket to building connections and developing business.

The journey begins in law school. While students are concerned about summer work and articling positions, at this stage the focus should be on building long-term relationships.

“Too many students look at networking as looking for a job,” says Jennifer Lau, associate director, career services at the University of British Columbia’s law faculty. “Networking is about client development and personal development.”

Professors and upper-year students are a great resource for learning about the profession and finding mentors. Students attending wine and cheese events and firm visits should research who will be attending and target potential contacts. For those who are shy, Lau recommends bringing a friend who can talk up your achievements.

“You don’t have to go to big events to network,” says Lau. “Think about what works for you. If you go to an event and have a good one-on-one conversation, that’s great.”

"You need measurable results. Force yourself to decide what is the best use of your time and what will give you the most benefit." Ryan Middleton Senior associate, Heenan Blaikie

For articling students, the focus should be on creating new networks within their firm while maintaining existing relationships from law school. This means approaching individual lawyers to discuss their practice and develop mentorship opportunities.

“You have to put yourself out there,” says Maxine Ethier, a commercial and finance associate at Heenan Blaikie. “Most people think of articling in a vacuum where you focus on hire-back. Remember that the year is about building your career.”

Networking becomes even more important as a new associate. Business development is built upon work given by senior lawyers and former classmates become potential clients.

“Always go for the low hanging fruit first,” says Ryan Middleton, banking and finance senior associate at Heenan Blaikie. “Your law student friends will be in high power positions down the road. They are a good source for client development.”

Associates need detailed marketing plans in order to keep track of networking activity. Create benchmarks for social networking activities, generating new contacts and developing strategies for building new relationships.

“You need measurable results,” says Middleton. “Force yourself to decide what is the best use of your time and what will give you the most benefit. Be specific as possible.”

When lawyers move into senior positions, past relationships have been established through networking. As chairman and partner of Boyne Clarke in Halifax, John Young knows the importance of keeping long-term relationships. He encourages lawyers to participate in community activities to solidify relationships and take the time to get to know others in the firm.

“You need to have significant relationships with a significant number of people in your office,” Young says. “You have to know their practice and what they do. If you have no involvement in the firm, you may have an orphan practice.”

Over time, long-term relationships become the foundation of a healthy practice. “Networking is a series of little steps,” he adds. “It’s as simple as a friendly hello in the elevator to a fellow co-worker and as complicated as visiting a client at their worksite. It’s about taking the long-term view.”

How to shine online

Online networking is more than logging into Facebook: Social networking is an essential part of career development. “In most business relationships, we meet people maybe a few times a year,” says Lindsay Griffiths, director of global relationship management at the International Lawyers Network. “Social media helps with that lag. It gives you a presence online for your clients.”

The best way to develop online networking skills is through a well-executed plan. When attending a conference, search for the speakers online. Create a list of who you want to meet and connect with them through social networks. To strength your online relationships, Griffiths recommends setting up face-to-face meetings. When travelling, search your networks to find out who you know in that city and set up a lunch meeting. Getting involved in social media groups like LinkedIn groups can help solidify relationships.

“If you prioritize social media, it will work for you,” says Griffiths. “You will be promoted online without having to beat your own drum.” 

Keeping order in the court

Even some judges are using social media to reach out. But lawyers and others still need to exercise caution about social networking from inside the courtroom.

Ontario Court Justice Harvey Brownstone hosts Family Matters, a TV show which discusses family law issues such as gambling, addiction and online dating. The show has Facebook and Twitter accounts and episodes are posted on YouTube.  The judge works hard to maintain his impartiality; as the first Canadian sitting judge with a TV show, he receives no remuneration and uses vacation time to tape episodes.

“This show is all about public education,” he says. “Seventy-two per cent of people in court on family matters are self-represented. The only time they hear from us is in court. Giving legal information is an access to justice issue.”

Art credit: Compilation: ktmoffitt, franckreporter / istockphoto

Judges are slowly and cautiously exploring social media. A few Canadian judges have private LinkedIn accounts and have appeared on Family Matters. Meanwhile, judges can network online through, a private website hosted by the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs. The Canadian Centre for Court Technology (CCCT) is currently working on a discussion paper on the use of social media by judges and exploring the issues of security and impartiality.

“We’re slowly getting a presence online,” says Justice Frances Kiteley of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice and co-chair of the CCCT board of directors. “I admire what Justice Brownstone is doing to reach out to a wider audience. We want to keep working on educating the judiciary about social media.”

Meanwhile, the judiciary is struggling to deal with the use of social media by lawyers, the media and the public inside the courtroom. And right now, there are no clear rules.

Most provinces allow lawyers to use electronic devices to take notes. In British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia, lawyers are allowed to send and receive texts. In New Brunswick, the courts recently decided to allow live tweeting and blogging. On the other hand, the Quebec Court issued new guidelines in April banning all emails, tweets and text messages from the courtroom without the consent of the judge.

In January, 2013, the CCCT released social media guidelines that support transparency and accountability by allowing electronic devices in the courtroom.

“This is an issue of decorum,” says Patrick Cormier, chief executive officer of the CCCT. “Judges are faced with safeguarding the right to inform the public but maintaining decorum. We want the courts to use our guidelines as a starting point for discussion.”

He adds: “We need rules where everyone is comfortable. The courts want to err on the side of caution.”

Advice from the experts

Lindsay Griffiths; Ryan Middleton; Jennifer Lau; John Young

L to r: Lindsay Griffiths; Ryan Middleton; Jennifer Lau; John Young

Lindsay Griffiths, director of global relationship management at the International Lawyers Network:

“When going to a conference, make sure to have a goal. If you need help, seek out the marketing person at your firm and figure out whether the goal is meeting 15 new people or handing out 25 business cards.”

Ryan Middleton, banking and finance associate at Heenan Blaikie:

“Your networking activities should fit in your comfort zone. Some people like to present papers at conferences or go out for lunch with clients. Find out what works best for you.”

Jennifer Lau, associate director, career services in the faculty of law at University of British Columbia:

“For students, reach out to lawyers by cold calling or emailing them for an informational interview. Many lawyers are happy to talk to law students about their practice.”

John Young, chairman and partner of Boyne Clarke:

“You have to look at the relationship as long-term and have a time commitment. Potential clients deserve as much attention as clients.”

Best networking apps

Mobile devices are making social networking easier than ever. Here is a list of must-have apps:

LinkedIn: The essential app for networking beginners and experts has all the features of the website.

Hashable: Keep track of business contacts. Record information about initial meetings, send virtual business cards and note future meetings.

CardMunch Business Card Reader: Got a pocketful of business cards? Use this app to scan them and invite people to your LinkedIn profile.

LunchMeet: Finding a lunch buddy was never so easy. Using LinkedIn, post your availability to your contacts for more face-to-face networking.

Buffer: Schedule Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn updates through one easy userface.

Julie Sobowale is a writer based in Halifax.

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