Networking for Lawyers Redux

We’re having a vet behaviorist come to our house.

Yep. We’re those people. But we used to be waaaaaaay further out on the ridiculous end of the spectrum before we had a baby.

We flew our (then only) dog to Vegas to be the flower “girl” in our wedding. We bought a tufted settee to put in our bedroom so our dogs would have someplace to sleep other than our bed. We always booked a suite at the pet hotel -- complete with a TV -- when we went on vacation.

We spoiled the crap out of our dogs, and they seemed to love us and each other as a result. Until Gwyneth was born.

Now we have to feed them in separate rooms. One of them literally bites the hand that feeds her. And instead of lovingly licking each other’s ears like they used to, they growl when the other walks by and sometimes even attack.

Yet when we boarded them at our vet’s clinic for a day, they came back BFFs. Snuggling on the couch, playing together and showing us affection like the good old days. For a while anyway. Then it was back to the daily doggy death matches.

What gives? (And what the hell does all this have to do with networking?)

We -- the humans of the household -- are clearly the problem.

When our dogs were surrounded by professional dog people (that's a technical term, no doubt) at the vet clinic for one day, they were able to relax and just be dogs. And when they’re surrounded by the apparent hot messes that we are, life as they know it goes to hell in a handbasket. The people in their lives have a huge impact on their behavior and wellbeing.

The same is true of you and the people in your life.

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. - Jim Rohn

You’ve probably heard that quote before. But have you actually pinpointed these five people in your life?

I challenge you to do it now. Just grab a sticky note or scratch paper and DO IT. Write down names. Count/estimate the hours you spend with each. Compile the top five.

There, that wasn’t so bad was it?

Now let’s look at your list to see if the people on it are helping you become the person you want to be or if they’re holding you back.

1.  Kill All the Lawyers

Note how many of your top five are lawyers. Two? Three? More? There’s nothing wrong with having lots of attorneys in your top five, per se -- it’s practically inevitable if you’re employed in the legal sector. But you want to be sure these lawyers are helping you to fulfill your personal and career goals as opposed to thwarting them.

Before I decided to quit my job, every one of my five people was a lawyer. EVERY. ONE.

My husband, my boss(es) and my friends. All lawyers. Of course, the hubby would remain in the top five. But my boss and some of my lawyer friends were doing nothing to further my career goals aside from reminding me why I wanted to stop practicing law. Hence the next step...

2.  Dream Date: Lawyer Edition

Time to explore how you can bring others into -- and push others out of -- your top five.

It sounds harsher than it is. Your goal here is to allocate your time such that you’re spending more with people who support you and your aspirations.

Go ahead and cross out the people in your top five who are dragging you down. Keep in mind you’re not ditching these people forever -- you’re simply making a conscious effort to spend more time with people who better support you.

Now fill in those vacant slots with the ideal people you would want in your top five.

If you’re having trouble thinking of specific people you know, you can include archetypes. Or people you don’t actually know.

Oprah. Tim Gunn. Richard Branson. Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Louis C.K. Thomas Jefferson. Your great aunt.

No limits. No judgment.

Then look at what each of these “ideal” persons represents to you. Of course, if you put down “real” people on your list (i.e., people you could call right now and they’d know who you are), by all means bypass this exercise and move onto the next step.

Maybe you included Tim Gunn in your list because you’re craving an experienced and candid mentor who will challenge you, but will do so with a side of love and respect.

If you’re seeking an Oprah on your team, perhaps you’re looking for a personal cheerleader who has killer connections. Just look how she’s made careers for people like Gail King, Dr. Phil, Nate Berkus, Dr. Oz -- who wouldn’t want an Oprah in their top five?

For me, I had a general archetype of a person whose primary interests didn’t include billable hours, bonuses, making partner, spending ridiculous amounts of money or complaining about any of the foregoing. I also had a slot for someone who had already quit her career, started a new one from scratch and could help me do the same thing. Any remaining slots would be filled with people who would support me through --  rather than try to talk me out of -- a career transition.

3.  Assembling Your Dream Team

Unless all your ideal top fivers are existing friends, family or acquaintances, you’ll need to track down some new people.

I’m not going to lie -- this step takes serious effort (and cajones). But it’s worth it.

First, think if anyone you know can introduce you to a potential top fiver. Maybe a specific person is a friend of a friend you already have. Don’t write off Facebook and LinkedIn either. Cull through your friends’ lists to see if they know anyone you want to meet and then ask for a warm email intro.

Or how about your friend who seems to know everyone? Fill her in on what you’re trying to do and listen in awe as she rattles off names of people and organizations who would be a perfect fit for you.

Reexamine places you already go -- in person and online. Your next top fiver could be a parent of a kid on the soccer team you coach. Or that retired guy who’s always reading the paper at Starbucks when you get there. Maybe there’s a conference sponsored by a blog you frequent (e.g., Above the Law) where your people would hang out.

Putting yourself out there can be scary. But most people -- especially the types of people you’re seeking -- genuinely love an opportunity to help. And if they’re not able to help you, they’ll likely introduce you to someone who can.

I met the first significant batch of my people (13 of them!) through a year-long mastermind program led by my life coach. These women were the first non-lawyers to break into my top five in years.

While we didn’t know each other at the beginning, we were all looking for the same things: support, community and intentional living. We met in person at the beginning, but we’re spread across the U.S. and Canada and have since relied on the internet to stay connected.

Long-distance connections count when it comes to your top five!

Other top five worthy people were introduced to me via email or Facebook -- many through my mastermind group members. Some weeks I get lucky and am able to meet up with the same mama at the toddler park several days in a row. (Yes, that’s enough to crack my top five these days.) And remember, I’ve still got my local lawyer and nonlawyer friends who can round out my top five.

4.  Be An Ideal Top-Fiver

A great way to attract the type of people you want to spend time with is for you to be someone worthy of another person’s top five.

Of course, you can’t know exactly what someone else is looking for, but you can sport a caring attitude and a willingness to support others. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and find that a person with whom you want to connect has been looking for someone just like you.

And once you start making connections, you’ll wonder why you waited so long to shake up your top five.

My top five tends to resemble a revolving door as I’m constantly reaching out to people to help me overcome a new challenge, whether it be business or personal. Since deciding to quit my lawyer job, my top five has included the likes of entrepreneurs, web designers, life coaches, business strategists, educators and healthcare professionals.

Notice I didn’t say these people are in my “network”. Of course, they are in my network. But I find we lawyers tend to shut down as soon as we hear the “N” word. (Which is why I’ve only used it a couple times in this article...tricksy tricksy.)

What I hope you’ve discovered here is that growing your network isn’t about blindly throwing your business card at anyone with opposable thumbs, suffering through 18 holes of golf or wandering aimlessly through charity events you feel you “should” attend.

Growing your network is really about identifying what you need to succeed, surrounding yourself with people who support you and cultivating an attitude of generosity toward others.

It’s not going to happen overnight. And you might not encounter your dream team recruits right away. But don’t let that discourage you.

Instead, focus on your goals and the types of people you want in your world. Keep throwing out the generosity vibe. And allow for the possibility that this just might work.

What has worked for shaking up your top five in the past? What has been the absolute worst? I’d love to hear from you while I work on being an ideal top fiver for our dogs...