What lawyers love and hate about networking

What Lawyers Love (and Hate) about Networking...

As a lawyer, you understand the importance of networking. Whether it’s building relationships with clients, connecting with other professionals, or just expanding your network, networking is an essential part of your business.

However, it’s very apparent that there is a love-hate relationship with networking that can be both exhilarating and exhausting. In this article, we’ll explore what lawyers love (and hate) about networking and provide some tips on how to make the most of your networking efforts.

Love: The Power of Referrals

One of the things lawyers love about networking is the power of referrals. Referrals are the best way to grow a business, because the introduction is made on the basis of trust. This makes them easier to close than other sources of business, and tends to mean the clients stay as clients for longer.

The beauty of referrals is their ability to open previously closed doors. Where once it was hard to get to speak to a prospect, being referred in by a networking contact makes a world of difference.

Interestingly, a number of lawyers I contacted in researching this piece pointed to the importance of networking with other lawyers. As Asit Jansari says:

‘The best thing about networking as a lawyer is meeting other lawyers. They are a great funnel of work for me if their own firms don’t deal in the area of law that I deal with.’

Hate: ‘I’m just going to get sold to, aren’t I?’

Yes, referrals are great – but there is a lot of fear about what you’ll have to go through when networking to get to them. Whether that’s being hard sold to, stuck in a boring conversation being told that we can do X, Y, and Z for you, or being ‘pitch-slapped’ (I love that expression, thank you Isobel Willoughby!) – it’s clear that lawyers need to dig deep to find the real gold.

The challenge with trying to sell anything when networking, whether online or in person, is that no one goes networking with the intention of buying. Even if you were in the market for someone’s service, there’s no way you’d actually complete a purchase or sign up as a client at a networking event itself. So why do lawyers (and, to be fair, every other profession) do it?

Much better is to spend time building relationships. That means listening to what people are saying. That means helping people where you can. That means looking to find common ground – and when you find a shared interest, there’s the added bonus of the conversation itself being more interesting!

If there is the potential to do business, or to share contacts and generate referrals, that’s much better done over a coffee (or on Zoom) in a one on one format later.


Love: Building a Community

I talked to a number of lawyers to put this article together, and virtually every one mentioned how important building a network of likeminded positive people around them is. To pick one of a number of similar comments, Daisy Doardo said:

The best thing about networking, for me, is getting to know a range of people from different backgrounds and industries. I’ve had the opportunity to learn from senior professionals who have been generous with their time… a supportive community is a valuable resource no matter what you are seeking to achieve.

Having a network of good people around you is great for business – and not just because you want to get referrals. Being able to ask a piece of advice, get a pick-me-up in a time of need, or experience that warm feeling from giving someone else a referral is so powerful.

Hate: Traditional views about networking

The best networkers, both within the legal sector and throughout business, are those that view it as a way of life, rather than something that we have to go and do from time to time.

The challenge created by this is that networking events can be based on traditional ideas. How often for example, are events entirely based on alcohol, which isn’t inclusive for some, and perpetuates the myth that you have to have a drink to be able to speak to people you don’t know?

Florence Brocklesby makes the point that: Some of my female clients find that their employers or colleagues perceive them as not being strong on business development because they don’t network in the same ways, such as via golf. In fact they are often networking differently and very effectively, but without getting credit for this.

I agree: networking is just a term used to describe talking to people – so I would argue that we’re networking a lot more than when we’re at a networking event, on LinkedIn, or on the golf course. Having a coffee with a client – that’s networking. Going out for dinner with some friends – that’s networking. You wouldn’t necessarily describe it as such – but when viewed in the right mindset, they’re just as powerful ways of bringing business in.


Love: The variety of networking options

There’s no doubt that there are lots of places to network. One positive to come out of the Covid era is the proliferation of online networking opportunities that allow lawyers to network despite having childcare or health issues to think about. Geographic boundaries are no longer an impediment to networking – jumping on a Zoom or Teams call with a networking contact is as good as being in the same room as them.

In fact, the more open you can be to different opportunities to network, the more options you’ll find there are. Naomi Edwards told me about how her firm offers ‘netwalking’ on a regular basis:

‘People from all industries take a couple of hours out from their day netwalking in a very informal environment to enjoy the fresh air and local countryside, and meet new contacts in person who want to do business with those that share the same values.’

It certainly pays to think outside the box when it comes to networking – it’s not just about attending networking events.

Hate: Networking feels false

For many lawyers, the idea of selling themselves can be uncomfortable, and networking can feel forced and inauthentic. Shabnam Ali-Khan’s biggest dislike of networking is:

‘It can be quite false and it’s easy to feel as if people are talking to you purely for potential work. It can feel disingenuous.’

I get that. The overall goal of going networking is to bring in new clients and grow a business – so, for the uninitiated, it may well seem that you really are just having to try and have conversations with that sole purpose. If you’re doing that, it will feel false.

Instead, focus on getting to know and like people. We don’t tend to go networking to make friends – but think about it – do you have a better time with your friends than with people you don’t know?

When you have a genuine desire to build relationships, the end result is that you do build friendships – and when you have that, it doesn’t feel false at all.


Love: Becoming a Gatekeeper

Having a good network around you allows you to become a ‘gatekeeper’ to the rest of your network. When someone you know needs some help – they come to you. An old school friend rings me up periodically asking ‘you know that networking thing you do?

‘Yes’ comes my reply. ‘Who do you need?’

When you put a contact in touch with someone else in your network, it makes you look good, and adds to your credibility. As Steven Mather puts it:

‘What do I like about networking? I like the network that it brings – the ability to say to a client: I know someone who can help with that. Being that ‘gatekeeper’ makes me look better, more commercial and connected.’

Hate: People wanting free legal advice

Lawyers are good people to know. They can help and advise on many aspects of business. You know that – you’re a lawyer.

But unfortunately, other people know that, and often try to take advantage of a networking conversation by sneaking in a quick ‘what would you do in this situation’ type question.

The challenges are numerous: it may not be an area of law that you specialise in, you need to know all the facts to be able to give advice (and that’s just not possible in a busy networking environment), there may well be regulatory issues to consider, and that’s before you think about the fact that you’re there to meet other people to grow your business!

Unfortunately it’s the rest of the world that needs to know how inappropriate this practice is – but that’s not possible to solve here and now.

My suggestion is that if someone asks for some legal advice and you could help – tell them you’d be happy to sit down over a coffee and talk through your services. If they ask for advice and it’s not an area of law you cover – great, you’ve got a referral for someone in your network!


Let’s finish on a point that affects the legal industry more than most. To decide whether attending a networking event is worth it, it is understandable that you might look at the returns you could get from it.

For example, if you bill your time at £300 per hour, and the event lasts for 90 minutes, you might be tempted to think ‘I need to get a £450 return from this event to make it worthwhile’.

But this will never be a good way to approach networking. You cannot guarantee any sort of return from attending one event – but you can be assured of powerful returns if you approach networking as a way of life. Any conversation you have is a potential networking opportunity – you may not describe it as such, but it is.

Building the right networking strategy is the key: it needs to generate you referrals, build a positive community round you, utilise the many networking options available, and promote you as a gatekeeper so that your network come to you when they need help.

With such a strategy in place, you’ll find the negatives above fade into insignificance.