One of the most important skills you need to succeed in private practice is effective networking. I remember clearly when I left the public defender’s office in 1998, I had a ton of trial experience, but I knew absolutely nothing about business. I remember sitting in my new office waiting for the phone to ring. When I would go to court, I was astounded to see that attorneys with far less trial experience than I still had tons of clients. It was a wakeup call that skill and expertise had very little to do with how you got business. What I quickly realized was that if I wasn’t effectively communicating my experience or expertise than it didn’t matter how much I had, nobody was going to get the benefit of it.
I am not saying that it isn’t important to hone your skill and strive to be the best at what you do. For networking to produce lasting success there has to be substance behind what you are selling. But until you are communicating the value of your skill through networking, your skill is like a lone tree that falls in the middle of forest; nobody hears about it or even cares. So the question for women is, are we networking effectively? Do we network differently then men? And are we networking less effectively then men?
There was a recent study conducted by Athena Vongalis-Macrow published in the Harvard Business Review Blog which evaluated the ways in which women network and why we are still not producing results as successfully as our male counterparts. The article Two Ways Women can Network More Effectively, Based on Research discusses how networking is still a challenge for many women. Vongalis-Macrow conducted research by surveying women in middle management positions. She “discovered that there were two critical actions that were less evident in the women’s networking habits, and these two actions enable more effective network exchanges that highlight expertise, professionalism, and talent.”
Those actions were Collaboration and Articulation of Career Goals. She explains that, although she found that women helped others and showed a desire to share, they were less likely to collaborate with others on work-related projects. “Only 14% collaborated on projects as a way to network, compared to 33% who supported others as a way of networking.” And she stated that there was a “lack of understanding of the networking opportunities offered through collaboration” for women. To me this means that we are still not choosing to work together. We may be willing to create relationships with one another but we are not collaborating in business.
The other issue she found was that “[w}hen networking, women did not articulate and make clear their work or career goals. For the most part, they kept their goals to themselves. Only 4% admitted to talking about their career aspirations to others. Part of the reasoning was that they did not want to appear too ambitious or boastful; some wanted to minimize disappointment or the appearance of failure if the goals were not achieved.” This is a critical flaw in our business DNA. This flawed pattern will ultimately be a deathblow to our future success. It isn’t enough that we prove ourselves in the courtroom; we need to be talking about our successes outside of the courtroom. One does not exist without the other. In private practice, a client still has to hire you before you can defend them successfully.
Bragging does not require that you take an obnoxious or cocky tone, it can be accomplished by simply sharing stories that demonstrate your passion for your work, and by communicating your goals. It is time that women realize bragging and boasting are not bad words. Effective networking is vital to professional success, so let’s work toward better collaboration with one another and make a point to share more about what we do—and what we’re hoping to accomplish.