It is the end of summer – backyard barbeques, pool parties, sailing trips, the first parents and children gatherings at new schools, etc. You might think these events are no time to network for professional purposes. If so, you would be mostly right. You can take the first steps, but then stop and have fun.
Social occasions with new people are good settings at which to lay important groundwork for future professional connections. As lawyers, we tend to socialize with other professionals. After speaking with someone new for at least ten to fifteen minutes, you have probably already asked if the person works, and, if so, at what. If you have not asked, for the sake of your professional life, you should. It need not be your first question (unless you are in NYC, my home town where that seems to be the norm). It shows you want to expand the relationship beyond just a common neighborhood or school, that you want to know what makes the person tick.
When planning for casual end-of-summer social events, if possible, pack a small pad and writing implement. Whatever you do, don’t flash your business cards at social events. Consider taking your next opportunity to write down the name and profession of a person with whom you have spoken, as well as how you might reach them again. If your afternoon acquaintance does something relevant to your legal work, there may be professional possibilities. You can explore that some other day. All you want at the social event is connection, chemistry and information, and then to have fun.
If you learn how people spend their days, and you like their work, ask more questions. Your enthusiasm about their work might help your career. It will at least give you a good afternoon, and maybe a new friend. If you are a patent lawyer, the engineer at the pool party may not be your next client, but she may know other technical professionals and introduce you around. Caring breeds connection, and curiosity is one of the first signs of caring.
I recently attended a memorial service (not at all a social event like a pool party) for a friend who died a few days short of sixty. It was a sad occasion, and this man will be missed by many. Mourning for a friend who died too young is a connection at least as strong as having a common children’s school. At the reception following the service, I was present when several people met each other for the first time. No one conducted business, of course, but people did discuss what they do, and how they knew the deceased. I will be surprised if some mutually beneficial business connections are not later formed by people who met under even such unhappy circumstances. Common bonds can breed more.