Ari Kaplan at ASU Law School, Feb. 28, 2012

Most lawyers I speak with, no matter how long they’ve been out of law school, say that they find networking difficult. Putting yourself out there just seems kind of… smarmy … they tell me.

Typically, I’m right there with ‘em. Years ago, I’m sure, my own law practice would have improved if I had known how to collect and exploit meet and collaborate with other lawyers.

See? Even now, I still tend toward the impulse that networking is a little bit crass.

That’s why I’m not Ari Kaplan. But I’m trying.

Last Tuesday, February 28, Kaplan spoke to a packed room at the ASU Law School. His topic was succeeding in a stagnant legal economy. Attendees came hungry for far more than the free pizza. Law graduates face one of the worst job markets in decades, and they wanted to hear how networking could help them advance. Given their comments, though, many of those students shared my concern that networking was a nicer term for “egotism.” Ari set us straight.

Kaplan cut through that notion well. In fact, he left me feeling better about the whole concept—and he provided some valuable takeaways in the process.

Here, then, in networking-book-bullet-style so favored among the busy, are 8 things I learned from Ari Kaplan about networking—and about Ari Kaplan.

1. Grades are something—but not everything.

As a new law school graduate, Kaplan interviewed with a BigLaw partner, who exclaimed, “You have more Cs on your transcript than anyone we’ve ever hired.” Replied the redoubtable Kaplan, “Actually, some of them are C+’s.” Ari went on to a successful nine-year career at large Manhattan law firms.

2. His formula for success involves framing yourself—and actually becoming—a visible, enthusiastic expert.

You may achieve that in many ways. But new electronic platforms, such as blogging and other social media, allow even new lawyers to start on that path in ways their predecessors never could.

3. Networking isn’t about you; it’s about the person you’re speaking to.

This may be the toughest lesson to believe, but it also could be the most transformative. Ari posted a slide of students’ concerns about what it means to network, and they largely settled around the concept that self-promotion was, well, icky (I don’t judge. Remember, before hearing Kaplan, I tended to concur.). But then Ari dropped the following pearl: “Promote the good work of others, and let it somehow reflect on you.” Whoa. Never have I been happier to play the role of Grasshopper (younger readers, Google that to understand the reference.).

4. Be interesting. And what is most interesting to the person you’re speaking with? That person her- or himself.

Ari recalled speaking to a high-level in-house counsel, who said the secret to networking is to be interesting. In fact, that lawyer said, “To be interesting is interesting.” Kaplan marveled that after wrangling an interview with a top legal mind, the speaker ended up being Yogi Berra. But Ari thought about it and had to agree: If you’re interesting, you’re memorable—and opportunity follows.

And the second part of that corollary (I’m not really sure if it’s a corollary, but it sounds more mathematically exact than “notion”) is that people find themselves and their own needs interesting. Ari spoke of the ASU Law student who feared that networking equated with being “a money-grubbing, name-dropping tool” (possibly the greatest name for a band ever). Instead, he said, those who are interesting approach networking by putting their focus on their correspondent: What can I do to bring the focus on that person?

5. Be a hustler.

No, no, no. Put pejorative definitions out of your head. Kaplan simply means that successful networkers are proactive and direct (without becoming a tool. See above.)

6. Technology can make a difference.

Ari took some time to examine a few tech tools that may help in networking. I leave you to examine his books and website for more, but I will say he had great tips about the following platforms:

  • LinkedIn
  • Blogging
  • Conference-call platforms like Free Conference Pro, AnyMeeting and Zoomerang
  • Google Alerts
  • Help A Reporter Out

7. It’s all challenging, but here’s a guarantee: Nothing will work if you do nothing.

Really? You’re looking for more detail to explain that? Move on.

8. People want to stay connected with you, and they want to help you.

I know, this sounds pretty pie in the sky. But Kaplan made a good argument that you should remain in contact with those you’ve previously connected with. Too many of us dutifully collect business cards at meetings and events—my top drawer is full of them. But follow-up? Not so much.

Kaplan argues that people who have previously given you advice, or worked with you on a project, or even spoke with you at a bar event or CLE—all of them are somehow invested in your future. They want to hear how you’re doing—so long as your entire conversation is not, “Will you hire me? Please?” Long term, those who never hire you but who provide valuable connections and ideas may be the most helpful collaborators.

As Ari Kaplan concluded: “Find specific people who may help you, and then find organic ways to stay connected.”

Whoa x 2.

Congratulations and thanks to Samantha Williams and the Career Services folks at ASU Law for bringing Ari Kaplan to Arizona. Well done. (You should follow the Center on Twitter.)

More event photos are at the Arizona Attorney Facebook page.

And more information on Ari Kaplan is here and here.