I’ve been hearing that lawyers and legal organizations are noticing a trend.
“Young lawyers aren’t attending networking events.”
And I’ve heard many explanations for it. The most popular seem to be: “they prefer to network online,” and “they just don’t have the work ethic that baby boomers did.”
What I haven’t heard is, “Maybe we’re not offering the kind of networking events that young lawyers value.”
Lawyers, both young and old, have more networking options than ever before–whether through legal organizations or trade groups related to their practice areas or other groups entirely. Basic economic theory would dictate that, as competition grows, it’s going to take more to lure people to your events. Believe it or not, cold appetizers, cut-rate drinks, and dim lighting might not have the draw it once did.
A couple of weeks ago, I posted a question in the legal group on a community for young professionals:
I keep hearing that young lawyers “don’t like to network in person” because they’re not showing up to events. I don’t buy into it, but I wanted to ask you guys: Why do you choose to show up (or not) for an event or conference, legal or otherwise?
One respondent said the magic words that those of us who still put on live events love to hear:
To meet people. In these days of social media, meeting face to face still is the best way to do business. It’s all about trust and that’s earned in person. Conferences that give you the opportunity to meet others and start a conversation are worth it for that alone.
Seriously. Love that guy. I should have him do a guest post on this blog.
But there were a couple more who had comments that revealed something of what traditional networking events might be missing: a purpose.
For example, this guy doesn’t sound like a lazy, directionless young lawyer who can’t be bothered to do a little networking:
Generally I stick to events that cater to business people because that’s my client base. And except for a handful of bar association gatherings, I avoid networking events that are attended by too many lawyers.
In fact, he kind of sounds like the type of lawyer who could be going places. Which means he’s also the type of lawyer you want to come to your events. But he’s not going to go unless he’s reasonably confident that he’s going to get something out of it.
Now, he’s talking about general networking events (and not networking that takes place at a conference), but there’s still a suggestion in there for CLE providers: actively market to non-lawyer professionals who might also benefit from the programs. You don’t have to dilute the program to include experienced non-lawyers and their presence adds perspective and opportunity for the lawyers in attendance.
Another respondent said something I’ve heard over and over again:
I’ve been to too many events at which only students and the unemployed show up. So what motivates me to go to a networking event these days? Knowing, for sure, that working professionals that might actually be able to hire me are attending. Otherwise, it’s largely a waste of my time, unless there is a speaker who is particularly interesting.
Sure, it’s important for young lawyers to network with their unemployed peers because several years down the road they’ll likely be their employed peers. But if they’re making decisions about how to best spend their time, a general event for young attorneys (or students) probably isn’t high on the list.
Events that group lawyers by age, rather than by practice area or interest, puzzle me. Age isn’t much of a unifying characteristic. But if everyone’s in the room because they share a common interest–say, business law–they have a foundation on which to build a productive relationship. And the opportunity to build a productive relationship is the reason to go.
Speaking of business law, the bar association in Colorado is trying something with its business law section. The section has a subsection for young lawyers. The young lawyers host their own business law events and are active in the section’s events, and they get an inside look at the business law section, access to its leaders, the opportunity to provide feedback and ideas on some of its biggest CLEs of the year, and they will likely be the people leading the section in the future. Not a bad way to get introduced to a practice area.
So where have all the young lawyers gone? Nowhere. Maybe they’re just waiting for us to host the type of networking event that matters to their careers.