Legal Job Advice: 7 Ways to Make the Most of Your Next Professional Event

 By Charles A. Volkert III, Esq.

As conference season approaches, legal professionals will be filling their busy calendars with both national and local events. These gatherings provide excellent opportunities to network, build valuable contacts and invigorate legal careers.

Here are seven ways to get the most out of your next legal conference or networking event.

1. Set clear goals for yourself — beforehand

Be an active participant. Plan ahead with clear goals about what you want to accomplish at the event. What do you want to learn? Are you there to find a new legal job? If so, who would you like to meet? Are there any specific practice-area professionals attending? Defining your goals ahead of time helps you stay focused and lets you measure your success afterwards.

2. Be inquisitive with fellow delegates

It can be awkward to talk with people you’re meeting for the first time, so do a little reconnaissance and find out who will be there before you go. The event organizers may make an pre-event attendee list available. If not, head over to social media. Most associations have a presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube, and knowing someone at the event might help ease you into it. But remember to broaden your horizons and embrace the opportunity to meet new people.

3. Make time to mingle

When you’re at a large conference, you might feel obligated to get the most bang for your buck by filling your day with presentations and workshops. But remember that networking alone has tremendous value, so keep a measured pace and take time to talk with colleagues. Grab a coffee between events and strike up a conversation with someone new. You never know if the person you’re meeting could lead you to your next legal job.

4. Stretch beyond your comfort zone

If you’re uncomfortable with networking, you might be tempted to stick close to work colleagues. But don’t miss out on the opportunity to make new contacts and reconnect with former coworkers. Challenge yourself to strike up a conversation with at least two new people during each day of the event, and to have coffee or lunch with friends you haven’t seen in a while. Remember other people are nervous as well. Just opening with a friendly “Hello,” “How is your day going?” or “Why did you decide to attend this conference?” can be excellent icebreakers.

5. It’s not all about you: Show genuine interest in the people you meet

Networking is reciprocal. If you show genuine interest in people you meet, chances are better they’ll be interested in you. Be positive, polite and professional. Be the first to offer a handshake. Smile, ask questions, maintain positive eye contact and use your active listening skills. Avoid “shoulder surfing,” an improper tendency to stare past someone during a conversation in the hopes of spotting someone more interesting. And pay attention to social cues, such as when they change the topic or bring the conversation to an end.

6. Practice your pitches

Sometimes you have only a moment to capture someone’s attention, particularly if he or she is an in-demand seminar presenter or keynote speaker. When networking, have a brief introduction or elevator pitch handy and then tailor it to conversation. Mention who you are and where you work, and have a brief question ready. For cocktail hour, think of a few open-ended questions, such as “What’s the best session you’ve attended?” and “What did you think of the keynote speaker?”

7. Follow up with new contacts

Social media makes it easy to stay in touch with new contacts. If they’re on LinkedIn, send them an invitation to connect after the conference is over. It’s also considered good etiquette to write a brief email mentioning it was nice to meet at the conference/networking event, and add a follow-up to the conversation. For example, if they mentioned looking for a legal job in your city, you could offer to introduce them to a recruiter you know.

Whether you’re searching for a new legal job or wanting more information about another practice area, a well-developed circle of professional contacts will help advance your career.